Posted by: John Adams | September 25, 2010

“Like Shining from Shook Foil”

I attended an Andrew Peterson concert in Lexington tonight. I was deeply impressed by the depth of his lyrics, which are intricate stories set to simple folk tunes. Through the magic of language and song, simple melodies create complex universes that open up a doorway into ways of thinking his listeners may have never before experienced.

After the show, I re-read an interview with Marilynne Robinson, whose novel Gilead I read with deep appreciation this summer. In the interview with Christianity Today which originally piqued my interest in her writing, she says that “God willingly floods our senses with his grandeur in such a way that we can take it in and reflect it back, his glory ‘shining forth’ as we participate in it. It is as if we were to find a tender solicitude toward us in the fact that the great energy that rips galaxies apart also animates our slightest thoughts. Think how elevated a vision of the human soul this is, and how far it is from how we often view ourselves.”

It is this vision that I see at work in Peterson’s songwriting–the heart that has been given spiritual sight and is suddenly overwhelmed by the fullness of the glory of God that can be found in every nook and cranny of the universe. That sense of God’s unmediated presence (the restoration of which was the genius of the Protestant Reformation, doing away with sacerdotalism in favor of New Covenant priesthood) flooding the heart, paired with the aching reality that all manner of things have not yet been made well, and the earnest yearning for God to be all in all once again.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of my favorite poets, captures what I am trying to say in his poem, “God’s Grandeur”:

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 5

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Oh, for more artists like Peterson, Robinson and Hopkins, who not only see the glory of God in the gospel, but can translate what they see into artful expression! May many lost souls get a glimpse through our lives and through our work of what the Kingdom of God looks like from the inside.


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