The Poet and the Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson was a poet, a mystic, and a devout Catholic. At one point early in his life he began studies to enter the priesthood, but he soon abandoned that effort. At the urging of his father, a doctor, he then entered medical school. But the prospect of being physician did not appeal to him any more than the priesthood and those studies were also abandoned.

His life then began to drift as he pursued a career as a writer. Eventually he found himself in London where his poverty was so severe he sold matches to earn money and wrote poems on borrowed paper. His health then began to decline. He contracted Neuralgia, a debilitating pain caused by nerve damage. To counteract the pain he began to take an opioid called laudanum. He soon became an addict.

Because of his poor living conditions he then contracted tuberculosis. And although he fought his addiction, the tuberculosis took his life just short of his forty eighth birthday.

But through this troubled, tortuous life, came one of the greatest English poems, The Hound of Heaven. In the poem, the speaker runs from God in order to maintain the pleasures of his worldly life. But God pursues him.

The speaker runs from place to place and even pleads with the dawn to be brief, that night may come all the more quickly and hide him once again. But Divine Grace ever follows, untiringly, until the soul is forced at last to turn to Him alone.

The prophet Jonah is also a man on the run from God.

When Jonah is called by God to preach to the Ninevites, the prophet boards a boat headed in the opposite direction.

Jonah hated the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyria. When Assyria conquered the Israelites, it was to Nineveh that the prisoners and looted treasure were sent.

So Jonah turned away from God’s call out of fear and hatred. And what happens? He is thrown overboard because the crew fears God’s wrath. Jonah is swallowed by a large fish, and then spit out. He ends up on shore right back where he started, with God giving him the same mission.

Does that sound familiar? God gives us a mission, we run the other way, we hit a wall, and God gives us a mission. We cannot successfully run from the call of God. If we try, we only end up in storms or back where we started with little to show for our wayward journey.

Are we avoiding that one thing in life that we feel God calling us to? Has God given us a mission that we are ignoring? Are we in the midst of a storm because of it? Are we paralyzed by hate or fear?

Let this be the day we say to God — Yes, I will do the right thing — With the help of your love, I will conquer hatred — With the help of your courage — I will conquer fear.

Pax