The Practice of Praise

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You praise the heartbreaking beauty of Jessye Norman singing the Vier Letzte Lieder of Richard Strauss. You praise the new puppy for making its offering on the lawn for once instead of on the living-room rug. Maybe you yourself are praised for some generous thing you have done. In each case, the praise that is handed out is a measured response. It is a matter of saying something to one degree or another complimentary, with the implication that if Jessye Norman’s voice had sprung a leak or the puppy hadn’t made it outside in time or your generous deed turned out to be secretly self-serving, a different sort of response altogether would have been called for.

flowers on hill 4 copyThe way Psalm 148 describes it, praising God is another kettle of fish altogether. It is about as measured as a volcanic eruption, and there is no implication that under any conceivable circumstances it could be anything other than what it is. The whole of creation is  on the act—the sun and moon, the sea, fire and snow, Holstein cows and white-throated sparrows, old men in walkers and children who still haven’t taken their first step. Their praise is not chiefly a matter of saying anything, because most of creation doesn’t deal in words. Instead, the snow whirls, the fire roars, the Holstein bellows, the old man watches the moon rise. Their praise is not something that at their most complimentary they say, but something that at their truest they are.

We learn to praise God not by paying compliments, but by paying attention. Watch how the trees exult when the wind is in them. Mark the utter stillness of the great blue heron in the swamp. Listen to the sound of the rain. Learn how to say “Hallelujah” from the ones who say it right.

–Frederick Buechner

 

 

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The Bright Field

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I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was
the pearl of great price, the one field
that had treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess. Life is not hurrying on
to a receding future, nor hankering
after an imagined past.
It is the turning aside like Moises
to the miracle of the lit bush,
to a brightness that seemed transitory
as your youth once, but is the
eternity that awaits you.

–R. S. Thomas,
The Bright Field

Published in: on 04/21/2018 at 11:00  Leave a Comment  
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Surprised by Wonder

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Lord, catch me off guard today.
Surprise me with some moment
of beauty or pain
So that at least for the moment
I may be startled into seeing that you
are here in all your splendor,
Always and everywhere,
Barely hidden,
Beneath.
Beyond,
Within this life I breathe.

–Frederick Buechner

Outbursts of Kindness

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When God’s Beauty Shone

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God is beauty, and nowhere is he lovelier
than in the winning tenderness
and the prevenient grace
which comes to meet us
in Christ.

–Jürgen Moltmann

All is a Miracle

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People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

–Thich Nhat Hanh

Published in: on 07/17/2016 at 13:27  Leave a Comment  
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Lost in Wonder

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We must recognize the fact that true wonder is not a passing emotion or some kind of shallow excitement. It has depth to it. True wonder reaches right into your heart and mind and shakes you up. It not only has depth, it has value; it enriches your life.

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Wonder is not cheap amusement that brings a smile to your face. It is an encounter with reality – with God – that brings awe to your heart. You are overwhelmed with an emotion that is a mixture of gratitude, adoration, reverence, fear, — and love. You are not looking for explanations; you are lost in the wonder of God.

–Warren Wiersbe

Published in: on 07/09/2016 at 17:55  Leave a Comment  
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Delightful Repetition

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It may not be automatic necessity
that makes all daisies alike;
it may be that God
makes every daisy separately,
but has never got tired of making them.
It may be that He has
the eternal appetite of infancy;
for we have sinned and grown old,
and our Father is younger than we.
The repetition in Nature may not be
a mere recurrence; it may be
a theatrical encore.

–G. K. Chesterton,
Orthodoxy

 

Published in: on 06/04/2016 at 12:33  Comments (1)  
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Missing God at every turn

181269953721781037_Dyq3asjQ_bO GOD, Immortal and Invisible, forgive the faltering faith of those whose dwelling is among the mortal and the seen. We have no sight for unseen things, and we may have missed Thee at every turn. Every common bush may flame with fire, but we have no time to turn aside, and our hardened feet do not apprehend the holy ground. The heavens may declare Thy glory, but our eyes are too earthbound to read their story of infinity and peace. Day unto day may utter speech, but our ears are deaf with inward strife, and we hearken not nor understand. We have brooded long on the pain and anguish of the world, but we can read no redemption in the cross to which humanity is nailed; we have looked into the faces of our fellows, but discern no divine impression there; we have found little to love in the brother whom we have seen, how can we hope to love the God whom we have not seen? And now the awful fear has crept upon us that we are blind.

O Lord, that we might receive our sight. Amen.

–W.E. Orchard

What makes God glorious?

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“Glory” is a timeworn, many-sided, vaguely understood term of rich significance. Most importantly it has to do with God, the source and sum of it. Glory is what inspires wonder and admiration. It is manifested excellence, the outward display of beauty and goodness, the visible demonstration of greatness.

The glory of God is when
God lets us see what He’s like.

It’s when His wonderfulness goes public, His awesomeness comes into view, His splendor is sighted.

We observe the glory of God in creation—an awe-inspiring, but limited view. We get a close-up view when we contemplate Jesus, the human life of God. The knowledge of the glory of God is seen partially in nature, but fully in the face of Jesus Christ.

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Great are the mysteries of creation. Greater still is the mystery of godliness, when the Architect of the galaxies was manifested in human form. The heavens display the greatness of God’s power. The Word made flesh displays the greatness of His love.

The heavens show us God’s hand;
Jesus shows us His heart.

The heavens declare the glory of God, but Jesus of Nazareth is the glory of God. He is the brightness of God’s glory, the express image of His person.

The heavens declare the glory of God in an impersonal, distant way. Jesus brings the glory of God near in a living, breathing, loving Person.

Jesus is the glory of God made human.

And never was He so glorious as when he became horribly inglorious. It happened on a cross—where the worst and the best, the highest and the lowest collided. The crucifixion of the incarnate God did not extinguish His glory, it expanded it. At Calvary the glory of God blazed forth in volcanic abundance.

It was in the moment of greatest ugliness that His beauty shone most brightly. It was in the place of utmost shame that His splendor burst forth. Violence brought virtue to light, as the crushing of a rose releases its fragrance.

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Glory was nailed to a cross and lifted up for all to see. The veil in the temple was ripped open—God’s glory had been revealed. It was the glory of His irrepressible, self-giving, self-sacrificing, redeeming, restoring love. It was the glory of His grace.

The heavens declare a piece of His glory.
The cross declares it all.

Here is the final unveiling of glory. It is a revelation, an earthquake, a feast, a waterfall, a love story, a symphony, a tsunami, a game changer, a thirst quencher, an explosion of hope, a healing balm for the wounds of our broken and flawed lives.

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“Cross” and “glory” are as far apart as two words can possibly be. They are polar opposites. Crucifixion was not just about torture—it was about shame. It was the ultimate disgrace. For Hebrews it meant being cursed. No one ever dreamed a Roman cross could be glorious.

Until God got on one.

He makes all things glorious.

Even a shameful cross.

Even unworthy sinners.

Such is the greatness of His glory.

–Jurgen O. Schulz

Lacking wonder

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We are perishing
for want of wonder,
not for want
of wonders.

–G. K. Chesterton

Surrounded by glory

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Even a bare-bones
human existence
contains enough glory
to stagger anyone of us
into bewildered awe.

–Eugene Peterson

Published in: on 03/31/2015 at 17:27  Leave a Comment  
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Longing for more

648965_8e4d4e76a6f1bf435d57952f49cc667c_largeBeauty is to the spirit what food is to the flesh. A glimpse of it in a young face, say, or an echo of it in a song fills an emptiness in you that nothing else under the sun can. Unlike food, however, it is something you never get your fill of. It leaves you always aching with longing not so much for more of the same as for whatever it is, deep within and far beyond both it and yourself, that makes it beautiful.

“The beauty of holiness” is how the Psalms name it (29:2), and “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee” (42:1) is the way they describe the ache and the longing.

  –Frederich Buechner
  Beyond Words

God’s handwriting

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Never lose an opportunity
of seeing anything that is beautiful,
for beauty is God’s handwriting–a wayside sacrament.
Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky,
in every flower, and thank God for it
as a cup of blessing.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson
(1803 – 1882)

Two ways to live

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There are only
two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing
is a miracle.
The other is as though
everything is.

–Albert Einstein
(1879-1955)

Published in: on 11/11/2014 at 3:13  Leave a Comment  
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Sanctification

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In “Beauty and the Beast,” it is only when the Beast discovers that Beauty really loves him in all his ugliness that he himself becomes beautiful.

In the experience of Saint Paul,
it is only when we discover
that God really loves us
in all our unloveliness
that we ourselves start
to become godlike.

Paul’s word for this gradual transformation of a sow’s ear into a silk purse is sanctification, and he sees it as the second stage in the process of salvation.

Being sanctified is a long and painful stage because with part of themselves sinners prefer their sin, just as with part of himself the Beast prefers his glistening snout and curved tusks. Many drop out with the job hardly more than begun, and among those who stay with it there are few if any who don’t drag their feet most of the way.

But little by little—less by taking pains than by taking it easy— the forgiven person starts to become a forgiving person, the healed person to become a healing person, the loved person to become a loving person. God does most of it. The end of the process, Paul says, is eternal life.

  –Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

Artwork: Scott Gustafson

God’s artistic style

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Glory is to God what style is to an artist. A painting by Vermeer, a sonnet by Donne, a Mozart aria—each is so rich with the style of the one who made it that to the connoisseur it couldn’t have been made by anybody else, and the effect is staggering. The style of artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them.

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In the words of Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” It is the same thing. To the connoisseur, not just sunsets and starry nights, but dust storms, rain forests, garter snakes, and the human face are all unmistakably the work of a single hand. Glory is the outward manifestation of that hand in its handiwork just as holiness is the inward. To behold God’s glory, to sense God’s style, is the closest you can get to God this side of paradise, just as to read King Lear is the closest you can get to Shakespeare.

Glory is what God looks like
when for the time being
all you have to look at him with
is a pair of eyes.

~Frederick Buechner

Published in: on 10/12/2014 at 5:33  Leave a Comment  
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God of the Beautiful

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One of my greatest difficulties in consenting to think of religion was that I thought I should have to give up my beautiful thoughts and my love for the things God has made. But I find that the happiness springing from all things not in themselves sinful is much increased by religion.

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God is the God of the Beautiful—Religion is the love of the Beautiful, and Heaven is the Home of the Beautiful—Nature is tenfold brighter in the Sun of Righteousness, and my love of Nature is more intense since I became a Christian—if indeed I am one. God has not given me such thoughts and forbidden me to enjoy them.

–George MacDonald
(1824 – 1905)

Artwork: Jim Mitchell

Published in: on 09/30/2014 at 2:22  Leave a Comment  
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The Light Giver

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Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”

If anyone has any light,
it comes from Him.
If anyone finds truth,
it comes from Him.
If anyone possesses wisdom,
it comes from Him.
If anyone encounters beauty,
it comes from Him.
If anyone experiences goodness,
it comes from Him.

— J.O.S.

Image: Lars van de Goor

Published in: on 06/23/2014 at 8:32  Leave a Comment  
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Only one miracle

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After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. “There is only one miracle,” he answered. “It is life.” Have you wept at anything during the past year? Has your heart beat faster at the sight of young beauty? Have you thought seriously about the fact that someday you are going to die? More often than not do you really listen when people are speaking to you instead of just waiting for your turn to speak? Is there anybody you know in whose place, if one of you had to suffer great pain, you would volunteer yourself? If your answer to all or most of these questions is No, the chances are that you’re dead.

–Frederick Buechner
Wishful Thinking

The Giver of gladness

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Every spring-fountain of gladness about us is his making and his delight. He tends us and cares for us; he is close to us, breathing into our nostrils the breath of life, and breathing into our spirit this thought and that thought to make us look up and recognize the love and the care around us. . . . To recognize and know this loving-kindness, and to stand up in it strong and glad; this is the ministration of God unto us.

–George MacDonald
(1824 – 1905)

Image: Henri Martin

Altars everywhere

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Earth is so thick
with divine possibility
that it is a wonder
we can walk anywhere
without cracking our shins
on altars.

–Barbara Brown Taylor
An Altar in the World

Published in: on 05/23/2014 at 17:10  Leave a Comment  
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Inventor of pleasure

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In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you, they would have not been at all.

— St. Augustine

Learning to notice

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We are here
to abet Creation
and to witness it,
to notice each thing
so each thing gets noticed…
so that Creation
need not play to
an empty house.

–Annie Dillard
The Meaning of Life

Published in: on 03/20/2014 at 12:33  Leave a Comment  
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Nature grins

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All nature
wears one
universal grin.

–Henry Fielding
(1707 – 1754)

Published in: on 03/17/2014 at 12:38  Leave a Comment  
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Why did He do it?

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He splashed orange in the sunrise
and cast the sky in blue.
And if you love to see geese as they gather,
chances are you’ll see that too.

Did he have make the squirrel’s tail furry?
Was he obliged to make the birds sing?
And the funny way that chickens scurry
or the majesty of thunder when it rings?

Why give a flower fragrance.
Why give food its taste?
Could it be he loves to see
that look upon your face?

–Max Lucado
He Chose the Nails

Photo: Kevin Fleming

Published in: on 03/13/2014 at 18:08  Leave a Comment  
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The problem of good

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We have spent centuries of philosophy trying to solve “the problem of evil,” yet I believe the much more confounding and astounding issue is the “problem of good.” How do we account for so much gratuitous and sheer goodness in this world? Tackling this problem would achieve much better results.

–Richard Rohr
Immortal Diamond

 

Lacking moderation

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God never
seems capable
of moderation.

–N. D. Wilson

Published in: on 03/03/2014 at 18:48  Leave a Comment  
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Worship and wonder

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Wonder is a deep, profound experience. The typical secular education of our day makes us suspicious or callous to wonder. It seems so unscientific, so unsophisticated, and ultimately, so seemingly unnecessary. So they say. But to lose the sense of wonder is to lose one of the great beauties of life. Worship, on the other hand, exercises our sense of wonder. It helps us see things and hear things and feel things, that not everyone recognizes. Worship, in essence, is wonderful.

–Hughes Oliphant Old

Published in: on 01/22/2014 at 19:39  Leave a Comment  
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Beauty was God’s idea

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One of my greatest difficulties in considering to think of religion… was that I thought I should have to give up my beautiful thoughts and my love for the things God had made. But I find that the happiness springing from all things not in themselves sinful is much increased by religion. God is the God of the beautiful, Religion the love of the Beautiful, and Heaven the House of the Beautiful—nature is tenfold brighter in the sun of righteousness, and my love of nature is more intense since I became a Christian.

–George MacDonald
(1824 – 1905)

Image: Stephen Darbishire

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