“It is good,” God said to Godself at the end of the day. “It is very good indeed.” That’s how the Bible opens, with God seeing everything created, seeing it for what it really is, and being grateful for its existence. It is good. It is very good indeed.
That is what is real. That is what is true: the beauty, and strength, and grace of the world around us. Do we want to be godly? Look at the world, and say, “How beautiful.” Do we want to be wise? Look at those around us, and say, “What a gift.” Do we want to be humble? Experience the world as it really is, and so, “How can I be so blessed.” That’s how the Bible starts.
Mary Oliver wrote a wonderful poem called The Summer’s Day.
“Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (1)
That last line strikes me: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.” For how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. (Annie Dillard)
What is the most important thing we do each day? When we look back over the day, or over the year, or over our lives, what is going to be the thing that we most value? The things I love… having coffee with Dick first thing in the morning… looking up to listen to the birds when I’m reading in my outside hammock chair… writing sermons… noticing the lake and sky when I drive home in the late afternoon.
When I most value my life is when I stop and notice the gift of what is before me. And according to Mary Oliver, whenever we do that, it is prayer. Because what is prayer if not paying attention? Paying attention to what God has created around us? The very heart of thanksgiving blossoms when we actually see the person in front of us, hear the bird above us, experience the grass under our feet.
e.e.cummings wrote a prayer in the 1940’s that tries to put us right into the heart of gratefulness: “i thank you God for most this amazing day,” he writes: “for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and a blue true dream of sky, and for everything which is natural which is infinite, which is yes…” (2)
Dear Friends, when was the last time we felt infinite Yes? When something touched us deep inside, when we were entirely present, when we were so truly grateful? And we were in that moment completely alive? What was it about that day, that time, that place that made you feel alive?
A main part of feeling alive is being conscious, being aware of what is around us. Our days are spent doing this and doing that, hustling here and bustling there- getting things done. What would it look like to be aware… at work? At home? Doing errands? What could we do in our daily grind to become aware?
In Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, Emily Webb has just died; she was 26. Against the advice of the other dead, Emily chooses to go back to visit on the morning of her 12th birthday- one of her best memories ever. Going back, she begins to feel the excitement and busyness, all the routine of a birthday celebration. Emily is in the kitchen with her mother. Her mother is busy baking her birthday cake. Her father is in the next room decorating. She tries to talk with them, but they are too busy doing things to make her birthday ‘special.’ She starts to speak loudly, with urgency: “Mama, just for a moment now, we are all together. Just for a moment we are happy. Let’s look at one another. Oh Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me!” With despair, she realizes, “We don’t have time to look at one another…. I didn’t realize… we never noticed.” (3)
To love someone, we have to notice them, to just sit and gaze at our kids or spouse or friends. The color of their eyes; the lines in their face; the movement of their hands. The heart of gratefulness, of prayer, or life… is to see those around us for themselves, just as they are, apart from what we need them to do.“Oh Mama,” Emily cried, “just look at me one minute as though you really saw me!”
There was an older woman named Ellie, who looked at the world, and saw it as it truly was, and was grateful. “I can’t stay at home anymore,” she said. “But I’m excited to meet new folks in the assisted living facility! My children live in other states – isn’t Skype awesome? My pastor retired, but the interim has amazing stories. My part-time job requires more vision than I have, but I can volunteer. When Fickle, my Jack Russell terrier, died, I found the perfect volunteer job walking dogs and cleaning small animal cages at the SPCA.” For five years Ellie was settled. She avoided bingo and gossip at Plymouth Grove, and instead made herself indispensable at the SPCA. She was a model of “Thessalonian” life that Paul commends- never idle, full of contagious joy, prayerful and thankful. Then the “quencher” happened. Ellie lost the use of her legs and suddenly discovered how much of her life was based on mobility. Then the SPCA director asked Ellie if she would be willing to sit on a small chair inside four of the shelter cages. The new dogs were so timid and traumatized that they were virtually non-adoptable. “Would she could just be with them?” the director asked. Not walk. Just sit. For an hour visit with each one, Ellie sits and talks and scratches ears, if the dog is willing to approach her. Four hours a day, six days a week, she just sits with them and tells them they are beautiful, and loved, and a gift. And their lives are transformed, and so is hers. (4)
Dear Friends, joy comes from gratefulness, and gratefulness comes from being truly present to the life around us. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
In the name of the One who created us good, and will never let us go: even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
(1) Mary Oliver, “The Summer’s Day” in The House of Light, Beacon Press ©1990
(2) e.e. cummings, “I thank you, God, for most this amazing day”, Xaipe, Oxford University Press ©1950
(3) adapted from Thornton Wilder’s, Our Town , 1938
(4) StillSpeaking Devotional for Nov. 30, 2012, by Maren Tirabassi;
SCRIPTURE FOR JUNE 11,2 017: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, adapted:
In the beginning there was no earth or sky or sea or animals. And then God spoke in the darkness: “Let there be light!” and right away there was light, scattering the darkness and showing the infinite space. And God said, “That’s good!” “From now on, when it is dark it will be ‘night’ and when it’s light, it will be ‘day.’” The evening came and the night passed and then the light returned. That was the first day.
On the second day, God made the earth and over it God cast the vast blue sky. God stood back and admired this creation. And God said, “That’s good!” and the second day was over.
The next morning God looked around and thought, “the earth needs to be a bit more organized.” So God put all the water in one place and all the dry land in another. When God had finished that, God said, “This place needs more color!” So God made plants to cover the land. Dandelions and daffodils appeared. All sorts of trees and grasses began to grow. And God said, “That’s good!” That was the end of the third day.
On the fourth day, God looked around and thought, “The daylight still needs a bit more work, and the night is just too dark.” So God made the sun to light the sky during the day and the moon and stars to add a bit of sparkle to the night. God hung them in the sky and stepped back to look at the work. And God said, “That’s good!”
The next day God turned attention to the water collected in the oceans. “I want these waters teeming with life!”- and as soon as God said it, it was so. In no time there were millions of small fish darting through the shallow water, and huge fish swimming in the ocean. God made the birds, too, and sent them soaring through the air. And God said, “Oh! That’s good!” The dusk fell over the water, and the sky grew dark, and that was the end of the fifth day.
On the sixth day, God added creatures to the land. God made lions and bears. God made rabbits and kittens and cows. God added everything from ants to zebras to the land. And God said, “Oh! That’s good!” But God still felt something was missing… So God added human beings to enjoy and take care of all that God had created. And God said, “Oh, that is very good! Very good indeed!” God looked around and was happy with everything- the whole creation!
After six days, the whole universe was completed. And on the seventh day God had a nice rest and enjoyed looking at everything that was created. And smiling, God said, “Good job, God. A very good job indeed.”
Friends, these words come from the very heart of God.