Lenten Devotion: The Windhover

Psalm 103:1-5

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—who forgives all your iniquity, […] who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

“The best thing I ever wrote.” Those are the words that 19th century Jesuit-poet Gerhard Manley Hopkins wrote about his poem, “The Windhover.” The poem is his own stirring self-reflection upon seeing a windhover, a falcon, “rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing in his ecstasy! The off, off forth on swing, as a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend.” Hopkins marvels at its flight, his heart stirring at “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.”

Hopkins intends for us to marvel at the glory of this one falcon’s perfect self-expression as it takes to the air and remember how even this perfection pales in comparison to the ultimate perfection in our world, which is God in Christ Jesus, who modeled for us an even more glorious course of flight.

Hopkins’ final intention is that we, the readers, should have our heart stirred by the mighty acts of God in creation and in the life of Jesus.

The Psalmist understands this task completely. In Psalm 103 the proclaimer is witness to the mastery and achieve of God’s great love and forgiveness and cannot help but in an act of perfect self-expression, with all that is within, to bless God’s holy name.

May we too not just admire the windhover, the falcon, from afar, but in our own way, like Hopkins, like the Psalmist, take wing and find renewal like the eagle’s.

Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller