This is harvest time in northern New Mexico, and after a monsoon season such as we haven’t seen in three years, the gardens and orchards are full of flowers and fruit. The bounty reminds me of the first lines of the Gerard Manley Hopkins’ 19th-century poem. “God’s Grandeur”:
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out like shining from shook foil.”
This humble image, matched later on with another unlikely one, “Ooze of oil,” are the marks of Hopkins’ genius and maybe also the reasons he is misread. We don’t want to strain after meaning, generally, but Hopkins’ passion is perhaps only expressed in this mixing of the humble and the mighty.
I wish Will were here to eat an apple pie made with the apples from my tree, or look at my flowers, but the truth is, he probably wouldn’t have been interested. Like the medieval desert mendicants, holy men who lived their lives in remote caves and were sometimes fed by ravens, Will had long ago lost any interest in possessions. I sometimes wonder if this is the only way to holiness: to forgo all that we ordinary believe to be essential. He traveled around the country for years with no wallet, just some bills stuffed in his pants pocket, no suitcase, raincoat or jacket, and no change of clothes. That was who he was: naked to a world that seemed unable to understand or accept him.
That’s why I asked in his Facebook obituary that friends and family send contributions to The Interfaith Community Shelter here. It is one of the very few places where desert mendicants, or the modern equivalents, can find brief shelter and a meal. Although Will may never have stayed there in his last years, he certainly stayed at other such places. And they took him in when others couldn’t or wouldn’t.
But the world is as it is, and most people preferred to send me flowers.
As I go through the jumble of papers Will left here over time, I find to my comfort that he saved my letters from the early eighties, when he was first in rehab, until there were none because he had no address.
And, in the meantime, there are these beautiful apples, these beautiful flowers…
“Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” (Hopkins)
Poetry, fruit and flowers—it is still and always a beautiful world.