Tag Archives: sonnet

Only God’s World [Poem by Mom]

Some months ago a friend asked if I would write about why I am interested in theology. There are a lot of answers to that question. The most important answer is one that leads into this month’s poem from Mom: I am interested in theology because theology is ultimately the study of God, and the better we know God, the better we can trust him.

Yes, I realize this doesn’t always seem true. Sometimes in our walk with God we discover, to use C.S. Lewis’s famous words, that “he isn’t safe.” And it may take longer to learn the rest of the couplet: “But he’s good.”

But listen to these words of Scripture. Isn’t it ultimately true that the better we learn to know God, the better we can trust him? Listen to the testimony of David:

And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Ps. 9:10)

…And the insights into God’s nature that Abraham, the friend of God, possessed:

…The God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist… No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Rom. 4:17, 20-21)

And consider the two-fold confidence of true faith:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb. 11:6, emphasis added)

Only with a firm grasp on the existence and goodness of God can we survive the apparently meaningless suffering of this world. Only when we are confident that God grasps us can we rest in his care. Theology—the rational study of God’s character and actions, past, present and future—can thus be a springboard for a faith that carries us far beyond what our rational minds can understand.

I’ll let Mom continue from here. May God strengthen your faith as you read her words.

God has created us as rational beings, but because we are limited in knowledge and bounded by time and space, the key to peace of mind in this sin-cursed universe is not reason, but faith. Totally senseless accidents occur and tragedy stalks our days on earth. But “God is love” and “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” I John 4:8;1:5 That is the only safe foundation for security and sanity.

This poem was written in 1999 after an accident that was not only tragic but full of painful ironies. Parents of 3 die during safety stop read one newspaper headline. Why should two loving parents die while attempting to secure their children’s seat belts, leaving three very young children behind as orphans? Why should God allow the foot of a conscientious father to slip at an intersection with a dangerous incline?

Though we were not closely acquainted with the family, we, like many others in our broader church family and beyond, were deeply moved by the incident. How do we interpret our world and our God at such a time? Only by holding fast to faith in our unchanging God and in His love for us can we find comfort. Only by believing His good intent for His children can we find hope and meaning in an unpredictable and often painful world.

Some of my poems expressing grief are free-verse, apparently as spontaneous and uncontrolled as the tears and confused outpourings of a broken heart. This poem is a sonnet, very structured in form, perhaps an attempt on my part to impose form and pattern and some reason on an unpredictable world. But my ultimate hope rests on God’s promises of a new heaven and new earth where perfection will finally be realized and our anguished questions will be a dim memory.


Why trust this God Who labelled His world good,
With perfect seasons carefully designed,
If senseless accidents can still intrude
And rend the closest ties of humankind?
What world but God’s endures loss and survives,
Can bear and beautify, can make grief seem
The awful tragedy it is, in that our lives
Require divine involvement to redeem?

For in a world that claims no God but chance,
There chaos is the norm and trust deceived.
All grief’s a joke where all is happenstance,
All love a waste where none can be believed.
If you would have your sorrow honoured, keep
Your faith in God Who sits with you to weep.

—Elaine Gingrich, December 1999

Note: This poem was printed in The Midwest Focus and later anthologized in Reflections of God’s Grace in Grief (c. 2009) which was written and compiled by Faythelma Bechtel, a dear lady who is closely acquainted with grief.

For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.

And if you enjoyed this poem, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at MomsEmailAddressImage.php.  Thanks!

Professor Janzen Reads Hopkins’ Sonnets [Poem by Mom]

This month’s poem is the most technically challenging of any of Mom’s poems that I’ve shared so far. Yet this poem also comes with a personal story.

(See here for an introduction to this monthly series from Mom.)

Back in my days at Nipissing University, I took a Victorian Literature class under Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Since Mom enjoys the poetry of the 19th century, I asked my professor if Mom could join me in class. Professor Janzen1 agreed. So Mom joined me on a day when we were studying the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), and afterward she wrote a poem in memory of the occasion.

I’ll let Mom continue with her own introduction to this poem:

“Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.” Every time I sing that line from Robert Robinson’s hymn, my heart lifts with longing. Samuel Medley, another eighteenth century hymn writer, yearned to “speak the matchless worth” of his Saviour, to “sound the glories forth.” Like him I ache to “soar and touch the heavenly strings, and vie with Gabriel while he sings in tones almost divine.” Neither of those hymns are sonnets and we don’t usually sing sonnets in our worship, but sometimes my attempt to soar in private worship is on the wings of a sonnet, one of the most perfect of poetic forms.

The Canadian poet, Margaret Avison, who became a believer during her writing career, compared a sonnet to a stiff butterfly specimen in her sonnet Butterfly Bones; or Sonnet Against Sonnets, suggesting that the form, like cyanide, “seals life” with its cryptic laws. Can a sonnet take wings and soar? Can it live and breathe inside the confines of its form?

This poem is a sonnet about reading sonnets, but not just any sonnets. The sonnets our professor was reading were composed by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Catholic priest writing in the late nineteenth century, a poet of deep faith who knew and mastered the rules of sonnet writing but transcended and transformed them, bouncing the rhythm and building words, and so creating highly original, masterful sonnets that were uniquely his own.

Perhaps this was because his inspiration came from observing the natural world which was created by a God Who Himself had devised the rules by which life exists, and then delighted in displaying infinite variety of form and creature within those confines. The God of gravity and precisely regulated atmospheric gases also playfully created koalas and kangaroos, amphibians and ocean mammals, butterflies and birds, the platypus and penguin, each able to flourish within the precise requirements and provisions of planet earth, and together displaying the incomprehensible mental and artistic powers of our Creator God.

Hopkin’s world was “charged with the grandeur of God,” full of the glory of “dappled things,” where God “fathers-forth” and “Christ plays in ten thousand places,” and “the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Ah wings! Can a sonnet soar? This poor specimen may be a bit stiff in places but if it causes you to read Hopkins, worship the Creator, or echo His glory more uniquely, that may be as wondrous as soaring.

Mom says that her own poem, “as a sonnet, presents some irregularities of rhythm and syllable count, perhaps justified by Hopkin’s own unusual sonnets. Would Hopkins approve? I don’t know.”

We don’t know if Hopkins would approve, but Mom’s poem did manage to win 2nd prize for Rhymed Poetry in the 2002 Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship Fall Contest.

And Professor Janzen also approved. Describing one of my own poems as well as Mom’s, she wrote:

Your poem is, as I thought it might be, a highly crafted and intellectual lyric. But the laurel is reserved for your mother, who has a real poetic gift (& also, of course, several more decades of writing experience than you do!). Please tell her for me how very much I enjoyed her Hopkins imitation. The compounding and chiming are particularly deft, & the final sestet is positively magisterial.

So, for your enjoyment and worship, here is Mom’s poem:


When Janzen scans his lines, each stanza enchants–
Soft, swell; breath, bell; speak, spell–each noted nuance
Of stone rung, rhythm sprung… silence… All enhance
His intricate syllabic aural contredanse.
The optic nerves catch fire: a micro-expanse
Of inner landscapes; unique icons and fonts
Inscribe inscapes, transcribe atomic dance;
Words deftly flash designs that nature flaunts.

And more, each self that solos prominently
Echoes its source–By Him we cohere, consist–
As teacher, class and I, the dilettante,
Meet the word-waltzing, the word-wielding, the word-waking Word–all three:
The poem and poet, and Maker by whom they exist,
And we, wonderstruck with creation’s concertante.

– By Elaine Gingrich, 2002

To help you better appreciate this poem, Mom and I thought it would be good to post one of Hopkin’s own sonnets as well. Here is one of the poems that Janzen read on that day–one of the poems that inspired Mom’s poem:

34. ‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme’

 As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

And here are links to a few more of Hopkin’s better-known sonnets, ones that Mom quoted in her introductory essay above:

7. ‘God’s Grandeur’
13. ‘Pied Beauty’

If you enjoyed this poem, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at MomsEmailAddressImage.php.  Thanks!

  1. Sometimes in conversation we dropped Lorraine Janzen Kooistra’s married name, simply calling her by her maiden name, “Janzen.”