By Michelle Francl-Donnay
For though the fig tree blossom not nor fruit be on the vines, though the yield of the olive fail and the terraces produce no nourishment, though the flocks disappear from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God. God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of hinds and enables me to go upon the heights.
“There’s an amazing view when you get around the corner,” the woman ahead of me on the trail offers by way of encouragement. “Thanks,” I squeak out, “but I think I’ll wait ’til I get to the top and be surprised.”
This is not a gentle trail through the woods; I’m clinging to an iron rung bolted to the cliff with a 250-foot drop to the ocean below, watching my son Chris hug the rock face and inch carefully around the corner on a ledge a few inches wide.
Chris is not afraid. He moves confidently forward to the hike leader waiting on the other side. He knows someone fell here a few years ago and died, but his step remains firm, his eyes trustingly on the leader.
As I follow him across, the words of the prophet Habakkuk rise unbidden to my lips. He makes my feet swift as a hind’s and sets me safe on the heights.
We safely reached the summit, where the views of Mt. Desert Island’s granite crags and the Atlantic surf were as magnificent as promised. God’s creation spread out before our eyes, sparkling in the sun.
On the bus ride back to camp, Chris is still marveling at the experience. “Were you scared?” asked a younger camper. “No, I knew if I fell the leader would catch me,” he declared authoritatively.
I am struck by his assurance. What makes it so easy for him and hard for me? I know I’m not alone in my struggles; the prophets and psalmists alike struggled with trust and doubt.
My imagination runs rampant. Like Habakkuk, I am full of “what ifs?” What if the fig tree failed to blossom or the flocks vanished from the fold? What if my foot were to slip? What if I couldn’t catch Christopher?
Just like I inched along the cliff face hoping to delight in the incredible view at the end, amidst all the uncertainties of life, Habakkuk moves forward in trust, rejoicing in his saving God.
Clinging to the mountainside, I was acutely aware of my physical frailties. My strength alone might not be enough to hold me up.
Opening my breviary the next morning, the memory of the cliff and the words of Psalm 51 provoked a deeper awareness of my spiritual imperfections: “My offenses truly I know them, and my sin is always before me.” Here, too, the psalmist seeks the remedy of “rejoicing and gladness.”
I suspect Christ’s secret is the same as the psalmists and prophets – joy. He is attentive to God’s wondrous creation, to God in all things and experiences.
Like priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, Chris delights in all he discovers along the way – dusty trails, breathtaking views, fruit on the vines or not. He trusts it will all be marvelous.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.
From “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103