The all-too-human Word

Make an adult visit to a long neglected childhood scene. Perhaps your primary school. You’ll know something of the sensation recorded in William Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey.” The rooms and hallways, which once seemed so spacious, so imposing upon your youthful self, will have shrunk in size and splendor. You’ll wonder if perhaps the place diminished during your years of absence. It didn’t. You grew.  

Wordsworth returns to the banks of the Wye River, a few miles above Tintern Abbey.

Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.


In his previous visit, the poet had raced about with “animal movements.” His younger self, more interested in subduing nature than learning from it.

[L]ike a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led: more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved.


The “wild secluded scene” is different now. It touches him. Time has changed the poet, not the landscape.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) helped to launch the Romantic Age in English poetry. Fueled by the advent of modern science, the Industrial Revolution was consuming nature. Farms were giving way to factories; clouds, to smokestacks; footprints, to railroad tracks. Wordsworth and his generation sought grace in a world that longer looked to Christian revelation. The once sacred Scriptures seemed to be thoroughly human products. If there was a God, perhaps nature alone could still intimate, mediate, God’s presence, just as it had centuries before the coming of Christ. The poet seeks the desert, looking for the divine.

Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.


Wordsworth believed that an encounter with nature changes us. Its grandeur works its way within as grace.

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration.


Of course the human heart is restless, and Romanticism’s belief in the restorative power of nature would itself decay. A world war ravished any hope that there was something beautiful, something good and something true in the world, still awaiting our discovery. Nothing, not even nature, could live in No Man’s Land.

Two millennia past, a man appeared in the wilderness, preaching that the promises made to Israel—human, limited and frail as they were—were yet to be fulfilled. The Baptist was unlettered. No doubt, he wove together a pastiche of the prophets in a manner that paralleled his roughhewn appearance. Luke simply tells us, “He preached good news to the people” (3:18).

The wilderness was a worthy backdrop, but it was to history, not to nature, that the Baptist pointed. Every liturgy of the church begins with an encounter. We hear the Word of God and ponder what God does in time.

Unless we are very simple folk, unaffected by modern scholarship, or fundamentalists, who actively reject it, we cannot simply hear this Word of God and receive it as though it had been composed—earlier in the day—by God for us. It is now distant, archaic. It bears an all too human scent, a thoroughly human descent.  

So why do we still gather to hear this Word read aloud? Why do we stand when the Gospel is proclaimed as though Christ himself stood in our midst? Because we believe God’s Holy Spirit still moves among us. The Word is sprung from human minds, all too human limitations, and yet thoroughly sublime human aspirations.

We believe that when we hear this word proclaimed, the Word, who is Jesus Christ, still speaks to us. This is the cause of our joy: when heard with faith, the word is ever fruitful.

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear (Zep 3:14-15).


These days, many again beatify nature, seeking to enthrone an earth they have long since made their serf. They correctly sense that we must look to something beyond ourselves, lest we collapse in upon ourselves. But can a deity we devise truly save? Earth need not be our goddess. Mother is acknowledgement enough.

What if God foresaw all of this? Our ancestors’ worship of natural forces, the rise of revelation and its decline? Our desperate desire to rekindle divinity among us? What if God came to us, clothed in simple human desire, woven in all-too-human words? What if God became the very cousin of a foolishly beheaded prophet?

What a sense of humor such a God would have! If such a God existed, how else could one define this divinity, other than joy itself?

Zephaniah 3: 14-18a Philippians 4: 4-7 Luke 3: 10-18

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Bruce Snowden
3 years 1 month ago
I must have something feline-like in my genetic mix, because like a cat, I'm insatiably curious, a characteristic having both positive and negative outcomes. Once curiosity-driven I asked a priest what is heaven like. His answer was a profound guess, saying, "All the time something new, surprise after surprise, since God's infinity is limitless!" Based on that I concluded that since the element of surprise is necessary to produce laughter, God must be filled with laughter expressing a sense of humor. If this is true heaven's rafters must be rocking and everlasting life must be one heck of a good time! After all we'll be there as a "new creation" a new body, identifiable as "you," "me." but different, a human body nonetheless. A great mystery here, no wonder, as in heaven everything is wrapped in God and He is Mystery personified. Over the years I may have found proof that God is a God of laughter, reflecting on the Holy Spirit's Gift of Joy. If one is continually joyful, one must ever be ready to express that joy in laughter. When the heart is light, the mind at peace, the Spirit of Joy residential to the soul, Godlike, a sense of humor, reflective of the ability to laugh comes easily, all the time something new, something wonderous evoking joy expressed in laughter. Incidentally, doesn't Psalm 2, say something about God laughing? What a happy place heaven must be!


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