“Let us be silent in order to hear the whispers of God” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am odd. I might as well tell you this at the outset. Sooner or later – probably sooner – you would discover it on your own. I do odd things. I’m that person with her whole head in the rose bushes at the Botanical Gardens whom you might have found yourself skirting a large circle around as you passed. I’m that woman in her nightgown, standing barefoot and precariously tip-toe on a garden bench at the crack of dawn, half-hidden in glorious, dew-drenched cherry blossoms with camera clicking, a sight that might shock you awake in mid-coffee-sip as you pass by your kitchen window waiting to see what will happen next. Will she CLIMB, though? You might wonder aloud. I cannot for the life of me power walk around a park, although I’ve tried. I get waylaid every twenty-five feet by something curiously botanical. I wander under pine trees and touch their new-born cones. I put my face dangerously close to pollen-gathering bees and stare at them for a long while. I am sure they find me shockingly voyeuristic. I kneel and peer at dew on grass. My iphone camera is ALWAYS on zoom. I do not care for vistas. I live for inches away. You see? Odd. But as it turns out, my oddity has a name. I am an, “Inscaper.” And I am not alone. I am in the happy company of the illustrious Gerard Manley Hopkins, my poetic hero for many years now.
Gerard spent many long hours tramping the fields and streams around Oxford and later in the hills and dales around his Jesuit Seminary. He would get lost in clouds, in blades of grass, in the movement of water, the curious growth of trees. He made all the good-natured Jesuits chuckle and shake their heads as they passed him down on all fours gazing at dew drops. Harmlessly eccentric, they might have surmised. If they only knew that Gerard was deep in contemplative prayer at those moments. He coined a word for this experience – Inscape. Gerard defined it as referring, “to particular features of a certain landscape which make it different from any other.” His belief was that God never repeats himself. So, each blade of grass, each flower individually, each glint of sun on water was utterly unique, holding within itself a completely new message from the Beautiful One beyond – a Divine missive of love that must be answered with love.
Hopkins considered it his vocation to seek and find this Divine voice in the, “deep down,” of things. And once discovered, he urgently needed to express it, for love seeks a voice. His voice was poetry. He called this, “instressing,” an up-close-and-actual, unique experience of an inscape. How it is received into the sight, memory and imagination. He sought to capture that particular inscape in very specific words – words sometimes creatively invented by him for just that moment. He wished no inscape to be lost. This is why he once wept when he saw some workmen cutting down a large tree. Some of us might say, what sentimental, pitiful stuff. But for Hopkins, it was a Divine Revelation irretrievably lost, and his heart ache was genuine.
Inscapers are everywhere. When you start being attentive to that fact, you find that you are not alone. It’s like that knowing wink of an eye or a secret handshake. You can spot them just there. They don’t all use poetry like Gerard did. Some use paints, some use a camera, some transform an ordinary room into a place of magic by noticing the light and capturing its gold in fabric and furnishings, some cook souffles because they see the fascinating, deep down science in food, some bake aromatic breads to remind us that this was Jesus’s chosen portal to our hearts. There is embroidery, fashion, theater. William Morris covered walls with the gleanings of his personal inscapes and allowed us into his gorgeous world while simply staring at his wallpaper over breakfast.
I think of all these things as rising prayers to which we give a voice. All of us as, “inscapers,” seeing the deep down things – in nature, in the world of the human heart, in the very center of our homes. We can’t each see EVERYTHING the Lord is revealing to us through the world He created. We are each given our particular portion of what we are intended to see, to hear, to touch, to feel. What a shame if we miss it, for then no one else will know that God was there waiting to speak. We must learn to be silent, attentive, patiently waiting.
Gerard Manley Hopkins was a master inscaper. He revealed to me what exactly I was doing with my nose in a rose bush. He told me I was praying. He inspired me to look closer and closer, and he showed me that I must not forget what I see and hear and feel, that I must pass on these particular messages, these whispers of the One who has so much to tell us.
Denise Trull lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband Tony. She is the artistic director of a small but mighty theater company and loves the written word in all its forms.