Nondum, or, Barbershop Meditations

Yielding to uxorial importuning, I betook myself to the barbershop this morning.  My yielding was not, I insist, uxorious, although it was, perhaps, prudentially.  Readers who do not know the subtle difference between uxorial and uxorious are advised, with their wife’s permission, to consult a dictionary.

As barbershops no longer supply waiting patrons with virile (if outdated) magazines, and as I have myself regressed from flip-phone to no-phone, I nowadays depart for the barbershop with some reading material in my trouser pocket.  That it fit in my trouser pocket is the principal criterion.

My tonsorial (but not tonsorious) reading material this morning was a tiny volume of poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins, who is sometimes beautifully gnomic, and at others excessively so.  Brushing shorn locks from one of the barber’s chairs, I took a seat and opened this volume at random.  Before me was a poem titled “Nondum.”  Nondum is Latin and means “not yet,” so this poem spoke to the soul of a man who was obliged to wait before taking his place in the barber’s chair.

Hopkins called this poem “Nondum” because it is a meditation on the hiddenness of God, on God’s long-standing and faith-testing “not yet.”  The opening stanza beautifully describes the testing silence of God’s waiting room, which is like that of a barber who provides very little assurance that he, the barber, will presently emerge from the back room of his shop.

“God, though to Thee our psalms we raise
No answering voice comes from the skies;
To Thee the trembling sinner prays
But no forgiving voice replies,
Our prayers seem lost in desert ways,
Our hymn in the vast silence dies.”

This is, I think, a salutary correction of the often empty promise of rapture with which so many evangelists lure the unwary into the faith.  These evangelists are, now that I think of it, rather like a barber who hangs out a sign that says “No Waiting” whenever he goes out to lunch.  That sign should say Nondum, not yet!

“We see the glories of the earth
But not the hand that wrought them all:
Night to a myriad worlds gives birth,
Yet like a lighted empty hall
Where stands no host at door or hearth
Vacant creation’s lamps appal.”

Hopkins was given to idiosyncratic syntax and spelling, but I daresay there are very few who have not felt the appalling vacancy he describes in these lines.  My own vulgar imagination churned out this answering refrain.

“We see the barber’s corkscrew pole
But not the hand that plies the shears:
We on his waiting list enroll,
And yet no hairdresser appears
To razor strop, cowlick cajole,
Or deftly shave behind the ears.”

I’ll skip to the last stanza of “Nondum,” in which Hopkins makes a restless plea like one I know I have made, although he does this with more poetry and less impatience than I.

“Speak! whisper to my watching heart
One word—as when a mother speaks
Soft, when she sees her infant start,
Till dimpled joy steals o’er its cheeksT
Then, to behold Thee as Thou art
I’ll wait till morn eternal breaks.”

7 thoughts on “Nondum, or, Barbershop Meditations

  1. I was once told that God doesn’t ever say “No”, he says “not yet” or “I have something better”.

    To a waiting man, neither is much consolation.

  2. Then there’s SF author Cixin Liu’s Dark Forest theory about yon Vast Silence. When the Barber comes, it’s with a chainsaw and you get more than just your sillion ploughed down.

    Living in our very Un-Miltonian Age of Mud, the shiny new word ‘Simp’ is simple and direct and appeals to the youngsters. You don’t even have to be married (what’s that anyway?) to Simp.

  3. All we have are God’s promises. They are very good promises.

    I’m trying to hold fast in the faith. I hope you all are too.

  4. Many parallels between the shaving and shearing of the bowed head by the barber, and the shriving by the priest.. the array of metal implements and scented lotions on the countertop in front of you, the formulaic dialogue, the feeling of clumps of dead stuff tumbling pleasantly off you, the collection box as you leave..


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