When you consider the radiance, that it does not withhold itself but pours its abundance without selection into every nook and cranny not overhung or hidden;
when you consider that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf, rose or lichen, each is accepted into as much light as it will take,
then the heart moves roomier, the man stands and looks about, the leaf does not increase itself above the grass,
and the dark work of the deepest cells is of a tune with May bushes and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly turns to praise. ~A.R. Ammons from “The City Limits”
in fact, in truth,
–whether we accept or believe or not
makes not one whit of difference–
God Himself who pours His radiance
into every nook and cranny,
even into the dark corners of our doubting hearts.
He pulses there,
hidden and forgotten,
circulating life and light
until we find our voice
that turns, illuminated, to praise.
With monstrous head and sickening cry And ears like errant wings…
The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will; Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour; One far fierce hour and sweet: There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet. G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”
Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day. Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now– for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.
There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God, the disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.
But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.
The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving. Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort. Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger, just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod, the donkey would keep his secret well. Who, after all, would ever listen to a mere donkey?
We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom. The donkey knows. He bears the burden we have shirked. He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as our meaningless symbols of honor. He is servant to the Servant.
A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on. Of blessings and praise turning to curses. Of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.
And so He wept, knowing all this. I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.
The miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.
Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances, will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle.
We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes. ~Wendell Berry from Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community
The miraculous escapes our attention every day ~
we are blinded to the wonder of it all,
accepting as mundane that which warrants our awe and overwhelm.
How can the scales be lifted from our eyes?
How can we be offered up such astonishment and never be satiated?
We praise thee, O God, for thy glory displayed in all the creatures of the earth, In the snow, in the rain, in the wind, in the storm; in all of thy creatures, both the hunters and the hunted… They affirm thee in living;
all things affirm thee in living; the bird in the air, both the hawk and the finch; the beast on the earth, both the wolf and the lamb;… Therefore man, whom thou hast made to be conscious of thee, must consciously praise thee, in thought and in word and in deed. Even with the hand to the broom, the back bent in laying the fire, the knee bent in cleaning the hearth… The back bent under toil, the knee bent under sin, the hands to the face under fear, the head bent under grief, Even in us the voices of the seasons, the snuffle of winter, the song of spring, the drone of summer, the voices of beasts and of birds, praise thee. ~T.S. Eliot fromMurder in the Cathedral
These draining dripping
frozen winter months
of dark begin to emerge enlightened:
a reminder to praise Him,
grateful for daily thanksgiving and blessings~~
it is good to dwell on our gifts
even when ill,
coughing all night,
blowing through countless tissues,
back and knees and head bent double.
We invite stark naked winter
to sit in silence with us,
its tears blending with ours.
These deepened days
of bare stripped branches
and weeping fog
feed our growing need
for the white-as-snow covering grace
of His coming light.
“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.” ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
We are meant to be more than mere blemish,
more than a sullied spot or gaping hole on the surface, imperfect and inconvenient.
We are created as air and water and flesh and bones,
from the covering of skin to our deeper darkened cavities that fill and empty.
We are created out of Word and Silence.
We are created to weep and praise, praise and weep.
We are meant to be mystery, perfect in our imperfection.
Blemish made beautiful.
a calling out to the others to see if they’re there; ~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand
We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life edited by David Friend
By the time Saturday rolls around, I am overwhelmed by the amount of “noticing” I needed to do in the course of my work that week. Each patient, and there are so many, deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together. I start my clinical evaluation the minute I walk in the exam room and begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues sometimes offered by another human being.
How are they calling out to me?
What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice: the trembling hands, the pale skin color, the deep sigh, the scars of self injury. I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them. My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person, offering them the gift of being noticed and being there for them, just them.
This work I do is distinctly a form of praise: the patient is the universe for a few moments and I’m grateful to be watching and listening. When my patient calls out to me, may they never feel they are playing to an empty house.
What’s enough? Countless times I’ve watched the sun rise like God’s tender mercy to gently lift the dark blanket from the earth, and countless more times I’ve watched the sun set in such a splendiferous farewell that it must reflect the fringe on God’s robe. I’ve seen the sky define blue and endless. I’ve watched rivers run to the sea, full as life runs to God. I’ve felt the sea roll in on the eternal note of mystery and assurance.
I’ve scratched the ears of dogs, laughed at the ballet of cats. I’ve heard the cry and gurgle of the newborn, played with children, rocked with grandmothers, learned from hundreds of teachers, some of them homeless, poor, and uneducated.
I’ve been loved and forgiven beyond all deserving, and all breath to tell of it, by family and friends and God.
I’ve been shaken, changed, and blessed a thousand times — and still — by the prophets, and by Christ. I’ve felt the touch of God, each time before I realized that’s what it was. I’ve shared in the cantankerous yet remarkable family of faith called the church. I’m conscious of being conscious and alive. And all that’s just for starters.
How much does it take to praise God? I have a couple of trips around the Milky Way past enough for that, no matter if I never receive another thing. So I best get on with it . . . and praise God that I can. — Ted Loder from The Haunt of Grace
play with children
We forget, in our ever-inward focus, we were created for praise and to give all glory to God. We are given mouths to sing, hands to clasp, eyes to witness His wonders, forgiveness to try once again to get it right.
Even so, we don’t even recognize the touch of God.
May we, the flawed and broken, meet together today in His church as a family of faith to praise God that we are able to praise Him.