The Master of Disguise

An image from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” has been stuck in my mind like peanut butter gets stuck to the roof of your mouth.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow 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 what I do is me; for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices,
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in Gods eye what in Gods eye he is-
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

For Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his.” I love how Hopkins captures the truth that humans are meant to do more than just reflect themselves; that deep within each human, the image of Christ is intended to be reflected back to the Father.

All of God’s creations, from the brightly colored Kingfisher, a majestic bird, to the tiny, lace-winged dragonfly, were intended to be mirrors reflecting God’s glory back to Him. A myriad of mirrors in the form of birds and bugs and flowers and stars.

But humanity was the crowning achievement, the set-apart creation, made in the image of the Triune God. Humans were created not only to reflect God’s glory, but also to bear a bit of God’s glory and likeness within.

We botched up the job.

It’s hard to see Christ in the marred image of broken people, myself included. The image of God has been smudged and damaged and broken until it is almost unnoticeable, unrecognizable.

But Hopkin’s line, “For Christ plays in a thousand places, lovely in eyes, lovely in limbs not his” makes me want to dig deep into the people I encounter and to stare long and hard at their lives and personalities. His words make me want to strain my ears so I can hear Christ playing tremendously beautiful songs through terribly broken people.

It’s there. Sometimes it’s just way deeper than we care to dig.

The best digger for the image of God in humanity was Mother Theresa. She would see her beautiful Jesus in the rotting flesh of lepers, in the nearly dead bodies of India’s homeless on the streets, in the smelly street poor of her Calcutta.

Malcolm Muggeridge, a British writer and reporter who followed Mother around for five days of filming, wrote the following in Something Beautiful for God.”

“Accompanying Mother Theresa, as we did, to these different activities for the purpose of filming them – to the Home for the Dying, to the lepers and unwanted children, I found I went through three phases. The first was horror mixed with pity, the second compassion pure and simple, and the third, reaching far beyond compassion, something I had never experienced before – an awareness that these dying and derelict men and women, these lepers with stumps instead of hands, these unwanted children, were not pitiable, repulsive or forlorn, bur rather dear and delightful; as it might be, friends of long standing, brothers and sisters. How is it to be explained – the very heart and  mystery of the Christian faith? To sooth those battered old heads, to grasp those poor stumps, to take in one’s arms those children consigned to dustbins, because it is his head, as they are his stumps and his children, of whom he said that whosoever received one such child in his name received him.”

Mother Theresa has a beautiful prayer  she shares with her Sisters of Charity called “Jesus, My Patient.”

“Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you and say, ‘Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you. Lord, give me seeing faith, then my work will never be monotonous.”

I so long to see, as Mother and Gerard Manley Hopkins did, the Master underneath all his disguises, God’s image in his humanity in the grocery store bagger, in the homeless man on the corner, in my own naughty children, in my own frantic heart.

Oh, Father, today, may we see through the disguises the image of You, our beautiful and wise Master of Disguise.

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