Of Kingfishers, Pebbles, and Bells

Written By: Chris Mace

Kingfisher, Taunton River, Sullivan, Maine

Watching kingfishers fish along the Taunton river has always been a summer treat. Not long ago, a friend gifted me with a wonderful, little kingfisher painting which he had done. It was accompanied by his hand printed copy of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, As Kingfishers Catch Fire:

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 Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

The poem flows with imagination, alliteration and rhyming but also expresses a deep theological truth. (Not a surprise because Hopkins was a Jesuit priest.) Just as kingfishers catch the light in their rapid dive for food or as pebbles resound when they roll off a well’s rim into the water, or as bells fling out their own special tones, our souls have their own way of perceiving and expressing their unique roles in life. “What I do is me: for that I came.”

That short statement encapsulates the need for our special self expressions but with a determined higher purpose in mind. The second verse captures the essence of that common purpose.

“I say more: the just man justices/ Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces/ Acts in God’s eyes what in God’s eyes he is-/ Christ —for Christ plays in ten thousand places;/ Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his/ To the Father through the feature of men’s faces”

Even though we express ourselves through different personalities and giftedness, our spirits have been created to be images of our Creator. The Apostle Paul addressed that concept in his letter to the Roman Church. (Romans 8:28-29) Having received God’s gracious forgiveness and redemption, believers can live graciously because God works good through life’s situations while conforming them to the character of Christ, who modeled patience and kindness, goodness and gentleness, gratitude and joy, faithfulness and love.

So whether one is a kingfisher, a pebble, or a gonging bell, the prayerful goal of every Christian should be to mirror the character of God or as Albert Orsborn expressed in song: “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me/ All his wonderful passion and purity/ O thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine/Til the beauty of Jesus is seen in me.”

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