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Hound of Heaven Pursuing...

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness". Jeremiah 31:3


It was 1917, on a piercing winter night in Greenwich Village. Huddled in the back room of a bar, known as the Hell Hole, was a Bohemian gathering of artists, intellectuals, and misfits. Among them were the country's premiere playwright, Eugene O'Neill, and the left-wing journalist Dorothy Day, his close friend, confidante, and drinking buddy. Maybe it was the booze, maybe because the hour was way past closing time, but O'Neill seemed unusually melancholy.


He started quoting from memory the Francis Thompson poem "The Hound of Heaven," which describes our common flight from the God who lovingly pursues us:

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 …

Dorothy Day had never heard O'Neill speak of this poem before, and it sobered her, sobered everyone. Cigarette smoke curled upward and hung in the air like wispy apparitions …. Everyone was hushed and still.


Shortly after leaving the Hell Hole, Day and O'Neill parted company, not to see each other again for a decade. He wrote of a God who failed to make good on his promises, of sin and shame and the terror of death. He won four Pulitzers and the Nobel Prize in Literature, but happiness eluded him.


She married twice, conceived twice, aborted twice, and finally bore a daughter by a man she never married. In December 1927, she surrendered to the relentless pursuit of heaven's Hound and entered the Catholic Church. She lived a life of poverty, with no income and no security, caring for the homeless on the streets not far from the Hell Hole. She wrote of a merciful God.


Dorothy Day never stopped praying for her friend, who had opened her eyes with the words he spoke. "It is one of those poems," she wrote in her autobiography, "that awakens the soul, recalls to it the fact that God is its destiny."


We don't know if Eugene O'Neill's soul was ever so awakened. We do know that while he lay on his deathbed in Boston in 1953, Dorothy Day was with him. She summoned a priest to his side. Keeping vigil, she prayed. She prayed he would at last unclench his fist and grasp the hand that had been reaching out to him for so many years, hoping to hear the words he recited in a barroom on that blustery winter night: "Rise, clasp My hand, and come!" **


God's word via Jeremiah used the phrase "I have drawn you..." which is a romantic word, the phrase of a lover seeking his beloved. It wouldn't be out of line to translate it "I have wooed you." Never forget that our Father is deeply in love with all of us, from the worst to the best. Jesus made it clear, "I have come to seek and to save the lost."


Caught by The Hound, Perry Floyd


** Source: Ken Gire, Relentless Pursuit (Bethany House, 2012), pp. 23-25


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