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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Only God can Make a Tree

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I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

–Joyce Kilmer

Published in: on 01/15/2017 at 15:38  Leave a Comment  
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Outbursts of Kindness

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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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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

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 sun, planets and grapes

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The sun, with all those planets
revolving around it
and dependent upon it,
can still ripen a bunch of grapes
as it if had nothing else
in the universe to do.

–Galileo Galilei
(1564 – 1642)

Published in: on 06/11/2014 at 8:06  Leave a Comment  
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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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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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Outrageous

Amazing tongue

The whole order of things
is as outrageous as any miracle
which could presume
to violate it.

–G. K. Chesterton

Published in: on 03/19/2014 at 11:08  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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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

What is grass?

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What is the grass?
I guess it is the handkerchief
of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrance
designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name
some way in the corner,
that we may see and remark,
and say Whose?

–Walt Whitman
(1819 – 1892)

Published in: on 08/31/2013 at 4:16  Leave a Comment  
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Living in a sacred world

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The world is not God, of course, but the incarnation goes all the way down, and the Spirit indwells all that exists. Nothing is without a witness to the divine; everything that exists praises the Creator . . .

God’s creation is a revelation
of divine presence.

This is the genius of Christian theology: It radically reconfigures the human conception of the sacred. Nothing is inherently “profane.” It may be profaned by sin; but it is inherently an arena of divine activity and spiritual insight. The locus and focus of biblical theology is the world, not the heavens.

–Leonard Sweet

Mysterious beauty

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I wondered over again for the hundreth time what could be the principle which, in the wildest, most lawless, fantastically chaotic, apparently capricious work of nature, always kept it beautiful. The beauty of holiness must be at the heart of it somehow, I though. Because our God is so free from stain, so loving, so unselfish, so good, so altogether what He wants us to be, so holy, therefore all His works declare Him in beauty…

His fingers can touch nothing
but to mould it into loveliness;
and even the play of His elements
is in grace and tenderness of form.

–George MacDonald

The first sketch

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Heaven is that greater glory
of which Nature is only
the first sketch.

–C. S. Lewis

Published in: on 12/30/2012 at 20:54  Leave a Comment  
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The quest is over

Man in his homesickness for his Heavenly Father has looked at nature to see the image of God. He views sunrises and sunsets and mountains and flowers and wonders if God is like that. But the storm rages, thunder rolls, flood arise, and the earthquakes shake; nature is cruel, and man’s faith in God’s being, like Nature is shaken with it all. No, God is not like that! The nature-worshipers are confused—and empty.

Then man looks on the works of his hands—on idols. He goes through austerities to wring out of the idol some favor or attention. For instance, in the hottest period with the thermometer 115 digrees in the shade devotees in India will measure their length on the ground for 50 miles to get to the temple to ring the bell, and thus get the attention of the idol. But the idol sits attentionless.

Then man looks to his books for some word from God. But the letters are letters, not life. He drinks of the words, but knows in his heart of hearts that this is not the Word.

Then he looks on the face of Jesus, and in one look he knows his quest is over. Jesus is “the Stamp of God’s very image.” The doubt now is not whether Jesus is like God, but rather is God like Jesus? If He is, then He is a good God and trustable.

If the best of men should try to think out what kind of God they would like to see in the universe, they could not imagine anything better than that He should be like Jesus. 

–E. Stanley Jones

Rumors of another world

I began to listen to my own longings as rumours of another world, a bright clue to the nature of the Creator. Somehow I had fallen for the deception of judging the natural world as unspiritual and God as antipleasure.

But God invented matter, after all,
including all the sensors in the body
through which I experience pleasure.

Nature and supernature are not two separate worlds, but different expressions of the same reality.

–Philip Yancey

The rare moment

The rare moment
is not the moment when
there is something worth looking at,
but the moment when
we are capable of seeing.

— Joseph Wood Krutch

Published in: on 09/13/2012 at 8:16  Leave a Comment  
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Try to be there

It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open. Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is to try to be there . . . so creation need not play to an empty house.

–Annie Dillard

Saturated with grace

Our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter—in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a child licking a chocolate ice cream cone, in a woman with windblown hair. God intended for us to discover His loving presence in the world around us.

–Brennan Manning

The miracle

The miracle is not . . .
having wealth or fame.
The miracle is having toes
and a tongue and fingers
and knees and a nose.

The miracle

The miracle is not . . .
walking on water.
It is walking on a planet
where there are blackberries,
waterfalls, sunsets,
hummingbirds, rainbows,
butterflies and penguins. 

Nothing but wonders

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who only does wondrous things! –Psalm 72:18

God never works anything but wonders. That is His nature… Take the simplest things, a blade of grass, or a worm, or a flower. What wonders men of science tells us about them!

–Andrew Murray (1828 – 1917)

Published in: on 08/24/2012 at 9:02  Leave a Comment  
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The eternal appetite of infancy

A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead.

For grown-up people are not strong enough
to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. 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.

–G. K. Chesterton
(1874 – 1936)

 

The wisdom of wonder

The Greek philosophers . . . called the deepest ground of knowing wonder. In wonder the senses are opened for the immediate impression of the world. In wonder the things perceived penetrate the sense fresh and unfiltered. They impose themselves on us. They make an impression on us . . .

People who can no longer be astonished, people who have got used to everything, people who perceive only as a matter of routine and react accordingly: people who live like this let reality pass them by . . .

Wonder is the inexhaustible foundation of our community with each other, with nature, with God.

–Jürgen Moltmann

The mystery of nature

I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what [C. S.] Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

–Clyde Kilby (1902 – 1986)

Published in: on 08/16/2012 at 8:28  Leave a Comment  
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