Hound of Heaven

EX 32:7-11, 13-14
LK 15:1-32

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasm├Ęd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

These are the opening lines of the famous poem by Francis Thompson called “The Hound of Heaven”.  At first blush this poem – even the title itself – is a bit startling.  The poem compares the relationship between God and a human being to that of a dog chasing a rabbit.

For various reasons – either consciously or unconsciously – we are like the rabbit fleeing from God, the hound. At different times in our life, we have probably distanced ourselves from God.  In the 1st reading we see a clear example of this.  The people of Israel have just been saved from slavery in Egypt and now they have run from Him to worship a golden calf.  We do the same. Perhaps we have become caught up in a cycle of sin. Maybe a death in the family has made us angry with God. Or perhaps we have just become too busy for God because of work or school and lived like He didn't even exist. Whatever the case, at some time we have all ran from Him.

God never stops searching for us.  God our Father loves us dearly and is relentless in His quest to be united with us. God is the “Hound of Heaven”. Like a dog chasing a rabbit, he pursues us, never stopping and always getting closer until at last we sense His presence, turn around and meet Him. In today’s gospel Jesus is reprimanded by the Pharisees and scribes for keeping company with sinners.  Jesus snatches the opportunity.  Through a couple of striking parables He teaches us something so fundamental about God. God is like a shepherd who will leave behind the ninety-nine to search out the one that is lost. God is like someone who will tear their house apart searching for the one lost coin. This seems like madness to us; God’s behaviour seems illogical.  With these parables, Jesus wants us to understand three things about God: 1) His love for sinners, those who have turned from Him, is immense, 2) He will do anything to bring them back to Himself and 3) when He is reunited with them, He is not angry with the sinner, He does not scold them but rather His heart overflows with joy – He throws a party to celebrate.  God, the Hound of Heaven, never, ever stops searching for a way to be united with us.

Though we can flee at times from God, deep down, every human being longs to be reconciled with Him.  Often times we are not even aware of this deep desire of our heart to be united with God. We yearn to be reconciled to God our Father.  In one of his books, Ernest Hemingway, tells a wonderful story that illustrates this point.  In Madrid there was a young man named Paco. In Spanish “Paco” is short for “Francisco” and is a very common name. For various reasons, Paco had become estranged from his father, run away from his home and was living on the streets. His life was on a downward spiral towards destruction. This was the last thing that Pacho’s father wanted. He desperately wanted to find his son but knew that he could never do this just by wandering the streets of Madrid, and so he made one last desperate attempt to locate his son.  He paid good money to publish a large advertisement in Madrid’s largest newspaper “El Liberal”.  The ad, which took up nearly a page, read as follows:
"Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa."
That Tuesday at noon the father made his way to the Hotel Montana. When he reached the hotel he discovered something incredible. A huge crowd had gathered, it filled the lobby and spilled into the street. Over 800 young men named Paco were waiting for their fathers and the forgiveness they never thought was possible. Deep down we are all like this. We all yearn to be reconciled with God.

We have seen that 1) God is always searching for us and 2) deep down we want to be found by God. But, there seems to be a disconnect between these two points because may people search for God but do not seem to find Him. They feel that God is far away.  How can this be? Perhaps we are looking in the wrong place.  Maybe we fail to recognize God’s invitation for reunion because it is not what we expect.

God, in fact, often tries to connect with us through the difficult situations in our life. It is precisely at times when life is at its most difficult when the “Hound of Heaven” is closest. Let me ask you a question.  Do you think that more people turn to God during good, happy times or at times of difficulty and crisis, like an illness or death in the family or some personal crisis? Often it is not till we have hit rock bottom that we realize our need for God. Certainly God does not cause these times of crisis or want us to suffer, but He does use them. The author of the “Hound of Heaven”, Francis Thompson, experienced this first hand in his life. His life was similar to Paco’s. Francis Thompson lived at the end of the 19th century in England. Initially he studied to be a doctor. He did not take his studies seriously and never actually practiced medicine. Instead, he moved to London with the hopes of becoming a writer. Things did not work out; eventually he was reduced to selling matches and newspapers for a living.  Things kept getting worse. He became addicted to opium and went to live on the streets. At this time Francis started writing poetry. Eventually a couple read one of his poems, recognized his talent and rescued him. Soon after, Francis became a very devout man. Later Francis came to realized that God used His period of suffering to lead Him back to Himself. This was the only way he could have been reconciled with God. Francis captured this experience in “The Hound of Heaven”.  Often God uses suffering and times of difficulty to lead us back to Himself.

If you have listened to any motivational talk, you have probably heard this anecdote about the word “crisis”. Apparently in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.  Times of crisis are both a time of danger and opportunity. This is especially true in our spiritual life. Difficulty and suffering can be an opportunity to draw close to God, but unless we recognize this, these events are just painful.  Sometime soon, somebody will come to you and share with them some painful struggle – big or small. When this happens, help them to see this as an opportunity to come closer to God. Help them to realize that God, the Hound of Heaven, is right behind them, trying to draw close. Help them to stop, turn around and face their loving Father.