One beggar helps another beggar into the Catholic Church.
Already I’ve introduced late-in-life Catholic convert, G.K. Chesterton; and, to a lesser extent, Walker Percy. Percy studied medicine before taking up the pen to diagnose, mainly through novels, post-modern man’s spiritual morbidity. Also, during those anti-Catholic years of my Protestant past, I came across another of the Church’s gems: Francis Thompson. This late-nineteenth-century medical student quit school to try his hand at writing. Thompson failed and found himself destitute, living on the streets of London. Sleeping with the homeless along the River Thames, a prostitute helped save this opium-addict. Thompson would write some of the most beautiful poetry of the English language. Who does not know The Hound of Heaven? What prodigal son reading that great English ode has not felt the relentless God-Who-Pursues, breathing down his own neck? Thompson writes with the knowingness and intimacy of a great sinner who knows a greater Savior. Having that much in common with the mystic poet from the gutters of Charing Cross, Francis Thompson helped me see that our Lord is much bigger than the little Calvinistic box where we tried to put Him.
“For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Ps. 91: 11-12/NABRE).
Here is another of Thompson’s lesser-known gems. Enjoy.
The Kingdom Of God
‘In no Strange Land’
by Francis Thompson*
O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places;
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry; and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry, clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!
*The Poetry Of Francis Thompson – Volume 1: “An atheist is a man who believes himself an accident.”