This book was recently recommended to me and I have had a chance to read through most of it. My brother in Franciscan life, Murray Bodo, OFM, is one of the best-known contemporary writers from the Franciscan tradition. Known especially for his collections of poetry and his best-selling Francis: The Journey and the Dream (which is soon to come out in a 40th Anniversary edition!), Murray recently published Mystics: Ten Who Show Us the Ways of God (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2007). It is a collection of essays about ten different Mystics, selected from across the Christian Tradition from Mary of Nazareth through Robert Lax, the contemporary poet.
Naturally, there are several poets, both of ages past and more recently, that Murray highlights as Mystics for our consideration. These include Jacopone Da Todi, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Lax (although one might argue Francis of Assisi, whose “Canticle of the Creatures” was the first literary piece written in colloquial Italian, might be counted among the more established poets and writers).
I particularly like Murray’s essay on Gerard Manley Hopkins, a personal favorite of mine. While I now realize how much of a mystic Hopkins was, I don’t think I had ever considered him in such terms until reading through this book. Murray reflects on how Hopkins captured the young Franciscan poet’s imagination from his earliest days as a Franciscan novice in the 1950s. Hopkins, the renown Jesuit author, influenced Murray for much of his life.
Here is an excerpt from Murray’s chapter on Hopkins that I think summarizes well the way in which Hopkins really deserves to bear the title “mystic.”
Here was a sacramental poet. For him everything seemed to be a sacrament of the presence of God; his words grasped the individuality of the thing that in turn revealed the Word that inhabited it. I knew even then, as a young man, that Hopkins was a mystical poet, an intimate of God whom he experienced through words that grasped God’s unique incarnation in everything that is.
Each thing in its very uniqueness, which Hopkins calls inscape, reveals the unique word of God that it is. This inscape is elicited or revealed through an intuitive knowing that Hopkins calls instress. For him, as a poet, it is language itself that instresses an inscape. Language itself becomes the inscape of God, reveals God as the Word inside the word
This of course, as Murray goes on to remind us, is a reflection of Hopkins’s admitted Scotist influence. This is, I believe, a large part of why I like Hopkins so much. The 19th-Century Jesuit was deeply infatuated with the thought of the medieval Franciscan John Duns Scotus, from whom he gleaned the notion of inscape articulated by Scotus as haecceitas or “thisness.”
Murray Bodo’s book does a good job highlighting ways in which certain figures in Christian history, some well-known others not-as-well-known, provide us with models of prayer and mysticism. Check it out.