The grace of ordinary life

Ordinary humanity

Hopkins wrote a number of striking portraits of people:

  • Some of these were based on actual individuals whom he had met on his parish duties, such as Felix Randal
  • Some were idealised, composite portraits of types such as in Harry Ploughman or Tom's Garland.

What runs through these portraits is the sense that, however ordinary such working men seem, they still have spiritual being and reflect something of being made in God's image. This being and reflection Hopkins calls grace.

Grace under pressure

Grace has many different meanings; some are difficult theological ones. But grace in this context is best classified as ‘the grace of ordinary life':

  • in Felix Randal, such grace is revealed in a deeper way after the man's suffering. As a blacksmith, Randal has a physical grace as he uses the abilities he was created with (a concept explored also in As Kingfishers Catch Fire). However as he suffers in his last illness, a new gentleness and acceptance of God brings the perception of a more spiritual grace, something imparted to him
  • in St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, Hopkins explores this theme further. The saint was content to be a humble doorkeeper for the Jesuits. He did nothing to draw attention to his inner grace: no martial deeds, no martyrdom. This is the grace of humble service, and ties up with the theme of Serving God
  • the anger in Tom's Garland is against a society that will not allow a man to do the thing for which he was created (work using his abilities). A society that allows unemployment is a society that denies grace and is truly the graceless society.
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.