Lent 4: Bearing Lent with Patience

TERRIBLE SONNET (IV): “Patience, Hard Thing,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

PATIENCE, HARD THING! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.

Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.

And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

Poetry isn’t for everyone, I get it. Especially Hopkins, who sort of invented his own “odd” meter. Let me see if I can passably rephrase Hopkins for us.

How hard it is to ask for Patience! Patience lacks (“wants”) excitement and drama. His ways are difficult: to go without, to take beatings, to obey.

These ways are where Patience grows, nowhere else. Like ivy, Patience slowly covers the ruins of our ambitions, and there She* rests.

We groan to hear about Patience, because we have none; and yet we ask God to change us.

Because it is so sweet to be with That Patient Person, and because we know how hard it was for Him to be Patient.

Hopefully that helps? Without ruining all of Hopkins’ artful language, that is.

*It is interesting to me that Hopkins’ refers to Patience as both male and female, and I think it’s insightful that he does.

I will say only this to tie the poem into Lent: substitute “Jesus” in for “Patience,” and the poem is transformed. Read the paraphrase again.

Jesus’ call to the cross is a “Hard Thing!” to bear, because then we must “do without, take tosses, and obey.” It is here that Christlikeness grows, and because Jesus did these things for us, our sins are forgiven. We may feel guilt, and yet God is working to change us, to transform us into Christians — “little Christs” — who, like him, “distil Delicious kindness” for the world.

Paul says the same thing this way:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

~ Romans 5:1-11, NRSV

I read the following posts to help me read Hopkins well:

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