“His Strong Heart Stirs the Ever-Beating Sea”


Today was the first day of this year that actually felt like fall. Like October.

It was a windy day, cool and dark. Half the leaves on our trees are still green, but the other half have already died, and there are brown patches in the yard where the grass is dying. There was no sun. The clouds were a strange color: not quite gray and not quite blue, but somehow both.

This time of year always produces conflicted feelings. So many bad things seem to happen in October and November, and the whole world is graying and mournful. Appropriate, I guess; elegant in its own way; yet also terrible and bleak and unutterably sad.

But it isn’t evil. It feels right, somehow. Right for this time of year.

I remember someone once telling me that the sadness I saw in creation was a result of man’s sinfulness. He was wrong, though. There is both comedy and tragedy in the divine story: which is to say, in God’s heart. I can’t imagine a world where everything was cheerful. It would be horrible. I wouldn’t feel at home in such a place.

That’s why I love the Celtic lands. They feel like home to me.

And maybe that’s why it was the Celts, more than any other race, that infused Christianity with this understanding that the whole world is charged with the grandeur of God. Not just the happy parts, the parts we like. But all of it. Mysterious woods, steep mountains, dark valleys, deep oceans. Snow-covered embankments that stand like sentinels in the star-flung darkness. Trenches that reach to the bottom of the world.

The Celtic sense of awe at the glory of creation, and the hospitality it now offers us because of the Incarnation, is perfectly expressed in this poem by the twentieth century Irish writer, Joseph Plunkett:

“I see his blood upon the rose

And in the stars the glory of his eyes,

His body gleams amid eternal snows,

His tears fall from the skies.

“I see his face in every flower;

The thunder and the singing of the birds

Are but his voice—and carven by his power

Rocks are his written words.

“All pathways by his feet are worn,

His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,

His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,

His cross is every tree.”

The writer and historian Thomas Cahill comments upon these verses:

“This magical world, though full of adventure and surprise, is no longer full of dread. Rather, Christ has trodden all pathways before us, and at every crossroads and by every tree the Word of God speaks out. We have only to be quiet and listen, as Patrick learned to do during the silence of his ‘novitiate’ as a shepherd on the slopes of Sliabh Mis.”

That’s why I can’t entirely despair, even in the cold months when light is swallowed up by darkness.

Because I know that this world has been redeemed. That the power of darkness was broken at the cross, and even when I can’t see it, creation is now alight with His presence.

Because I no longer have to feel like a stranger here. Because the cold and the wind and the rain and the hail… they’re not kind, exactly, but they do have things to say. Important things. If we just have the hearts to listen.

Because He has also suffered, and in suffering He blazed a path for all wanderers.

Yes, we can be hurt, and hurt badly. But nothing can really destroy us. Not the raging of storms or the bitterness of winds, the merciless colds or the pummeling rains. Not sickness or loss or rejection; not hatred or persecution—or death.

Somehow, against all hope, we are safe.

He is with us. He protects us. He is speaking.

Even in the sadness of fall.

4 thoughts on ““His Strong Heart Stirs the Ever-Beating Sea”

  1. I’m reading this book on Celtic Prayers right now, and one of the chapters talked a lot about how Celts saw winter as the season of darkness/death. Life goes in this pattern of light/life and darkness/death. They acknowledged the need for both. Joy and sadness. Celebration and melancholy. I, too, believe October/November will always be a season of sadness for me, especially after all that’s happened. Yet I’ve had consistently bad things happen around this time of year. It’s weird. End of fall/going into winter has hard memories attached to it. Months where I am reminded of the tragedy and heartbreak of this world. But it doesn’t end there, and for that I am grateful. I’m glad we have seasons of life/light, too (spring and summer are always those for me). But it’s good to acknowledge those things all the same.

  2. Yes, for a long time I had wondered why horrible things all seem to happen at the end of the year. And getting through the fall seems to get harder with each year that passes because of the weight of what happened before. The cold feels more menacing and the darkness is even more gloomy.

    It reminds me of these lines that Tennyson wrote on the loss of his best friend:

    “Indeed I know not anything,
    I only trust that good shall fall
    Somewhere, at last, far off, to all,
    And every winter turn to spring.”

  3. Pingback: Song Friday: “Switzerland” | thetalkingllama

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