As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;As tumbled over rim in roundy wellsStones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’sBow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.I say móre: the just man justices;Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not hisTo the Father through the features of men’s faces.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”
I try to come to this city expectant. The heart of the Christian gospel is the joyful conviction that Jesus of Nazareth is not dead but alive, is not a remote figure of the distant past but the living Lord who is nearer-to-hand than appearances would initially suggest. Christians have always believed that we meet Jesus not only in the pages of history, but also in prayer and sacrament and corporate worship. But, more than that, the New Testament hints everywhere that we are to look for Jesus not only in specially designated “religious” times, places, and activities, but in all sorts of unexpected places. We are to expect to meet Him in the faces of little children (Matthew 18) and of the sick, the impoverished, the exploited, and the imprisoned (Matthew 25). We meet Him precisely in all of the diversity and difficulty of the Christian community—which St. Paul calls Christ’s “body“—not least in tough conversations between Christians (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Matthew 18). “Christ plays in ten thousand places.”
The Fourth Gospel famously begins by asserting that Jesus was neither a mere Galilean field-preacher, nor even merely Israel’s long-awaited Messiah (though, He is not less than that), but He is indeed the embodiment (or “incarnation”) of the very Rationale (logos) whereby God made the whole cosmos. He is the key to all reality, the deep logic and raison d’être of the universe, the embodiment of Truth and Life; “the true light, which gives light to everyone,” as the Gospel writer puts it. This astonishing proposition has two major implications, one philosophical and one deeply personal.
The first implication is that all truth is God’s truth. Wherever true Wisdom, true Beauty, true Goodness, and true Truth are found, someway, somehow, deep down Christ is there. In his little book De Doctrina Christiana, Saint Augustine unpacks what this conviction means for the life of the mind:
A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God…’ (II.75)
It matters not whether it’s found in the pages of a secular philosophical tome or on the lips of a pop-artist, all truth is God’s truth, and so Christians should eagerly and fearlessly seek it wherever it is to be found. We may trust that all truth, however unsettling it may initially be, serves to make us better disciples.
The second and more directly personal implication is that the key to our true selves is found in Jesus, as well. As Hopkins puts it, kingfishers catch fire and dragonflies draw flame. Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Crying What I do is me: for that I came. But what about me? What am I here for? What is my purpose? What is my one thing?
The short answer to all of these questions is Jesus.
As St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “all things were created through Him and for Him; He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” “All things” (ta panta), of course, includes us. We were created through Him and for Him and in Him we hold together. By following Him we, through fits and starts, discover and achieve our truest selves, who we were meant to be.