December 14, 2017

“The overwhelming giftedness and goodness of life”

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This is our hope: Words emerge from silence, the silence remains.

• Wendell Berry

• • •

It doesn’t get any more basic than this.

Here is foundational perspective for life, from a master wonderer and wordsmith.

We wake up each morning to a world we did not make. How did it get here? How did we get here? We open our eyes and see that “old bowling ball the sun” careen over the horizon. We wiggle our toes. A mocking bird takes off and improvises on themes set down by robins, vireos, and wrens, and we marvel at the intricacies. The smell of frying bacon works its way into our nostrils and we begin anticipating buttered toast, scrambled eggs, and coffee freshly brewed from our favorite Javanese beans.

There is so much here — around, above, below, inside, outside. Even with the help of poets and scientists we can account for very little of it. We notice this, then that. We start exploring the neighborhood. We try this street, and then that one. We venture across the tracks. Before long we are looking out through telescopes and down into microscopes, curious, fascinated by this endless proliferation of sheer Is-ness — color and shape and texture and sound.

After awhile we get used to it and quit noticing. We get narrowed down into something small and constricting. Somewhere along the way this exponential expansion of awareness, this wide-eyed looking around, this sheer untaught delight in what is here, reverses itself: the world contracts; we are reduced to a life of routine through which we sleepwalk.

But not for long. Something always shows up to jar us awake: a child’s question, a fox’s sleek beauty, a sharp pain, a pastor’s sermon, a fresh metaphor, an artist’s vision, a slap in the face, scent from a crushed violet. We are again awake, alert, in wonder: how did this happen? And why this? Why anything at all? Why nothing at all?

Gratitude is our spontaneous response to all this: to life. Something wells up within us: Thank you! More often than not, the thank you is directed to God even by those who don’t believe in him. . . .

Wonder. Astonishment. Adoration. There can’t be very many of us for whom the sheer fact of existence hasn’t rocked us back on our heels. We take off our sandals before the burning bush. We catch our breath at the sight of a plummeting hawk. “Thank you, God.” We find ourselves in a lavish existence in which we feel a deep sense of kinship — we belong here; we say thanks with our lives to life. And not just “Thanks” or “Thank it,” but “Thank you.” Most of the people who have lived on this planet earth have identified this you with God or gods. This is not just a matter of learning our manners, the way children are taught to say thank you as a social grace. It is the cultivation of adequateness within ourselves to the nature of reality, developing the capacity to sustain an adequate response to the overwhelming giftedness and goodness of life.

• Eugene Peterson
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p. 51f

I find two sentences especially striking as I read this passage now.

“We wake up each morning to a world we did not make.”

“After awhile we get used to it and quit noticing.”

Note to self: Today, stop. Listen to the silence. Pay attention. See where that leads . . .

Comments

  1. Eckhart Trolle says:

    Executive summary: pretty bluebirds, therefore God.

    • Sometimes your comments, ostensibly clever, are just sad.

      • Agreed. To be pitied! None so deaf as those who will not hear; none so blind as those who will not see. Matthew Henry

      • And sadly for us, Trolle’s clever arrogance is now often the first thing posted in the comments.

        Makes one wish for Steve Martin to come back!

      • flatrocker says:

        Actually CM, just as Pilate unintentionally stated truth with the INRI edict, so too the phrase “pretty bluebirds, therefore God” stumbles onto the same truth.

        Thanks Eckhart. Your cleverness actually leads us to something many of us have quit noticing.

    • Seriously, dude. If snarking on the Internet is the only thing you do for fun, step away. Take a walk. Have a drink. Listen to some music. Live.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “pretty bluebirds, therefore God.”

      Actually this is pretty much what I think when I wake up, look out the kitchen window, and look toward my bird feeder. This morning it was not blue birds, but bluejays– three of them pretty much doing as they want. And I did think of God. This is one of the reasons I love our bird feeders. I see the birds, and beyond them four huge maple trees.

      And what I think of is God.

      Sorry, I must be a simpleton. No apologies.

    • Not everything we Christians do and say is aimed at satisfying the demands of skeptics for irrefutable proof of God’s existence. There is much more to the Christian life than mere apologetics, as this article ought to illuminate.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Not everything we Christians do and say is aimed at satisfying the demands of skeptics for irrefutable proof of God’s existence.

        “Always trying to prove the existence of God — as if God had nothing to do but Exist!”
        — C.S.Lewis, The Great Divorce

      • True. And in fairness to Eckhart, he has, in a passive/aggressive way, pointed out that not all people see God in nature.

        It’s just jarring to have his anti-messages be the first comment we have to read, especially following such a beautiful, reflective, meditative post as this one.

  2. Note to self, breathe in this goodness and breathe out light. Feed the cats on the mountain remember why I have such an honor and give thanks that I get to know some of the most wonderful things imaginable. Thanks for the writing especially today. May it take root.

    • unimaginable sorry I thought it took

    • w, in case you come back to read this…

      I saw Charles Fines’ post to you yesterday. Not sure what you’re dealing with exactly, but a book you might find helpful is “When God Breaks Your Heart: Choosing Hope in the Midst of Faith-Shattering Circumstances” by Ed Underwood. Ed has had chronic leukemia for many, many years. The pain and physical condition was so severe that he almost walked away from God. (By the way, the chronic pain still exists, he’s just learned how to manage it “better”.)

      The first part of the book details his initial struggle with his condition, but it’s the latter part of the book that I think you might find revelatory. Titled “The Dark Road to Glory,” he offers his insights into:

      -The Pain (“how I made it through my most excruciating moments of suffering”)
      -The Misery (“how I deal with the misery of a chronic disease”)
      -Lord, Speak to Me (“how I learned to ask for guidance, even when my friends thought I was a little weird”)
      -Daddy Cries (“how suffering taught me some difficult lessons on manhood and how my heart became more compassionate”)
      -Suicide (“how to pray for the desperate sufferer”)
      -Snake Oil (“thoughts on those who offer surefire cures or hurtful advice; this section is intended for both the sufferer and the advice giver”)
      -Spiritual Panting (“how to survive the moments when the pain causes you to lose touch with the world around you”)

      Each of these sections is a short (3-5 pages) testimonial on what worked for him, and it’s possible his insights might benefit you, too.

      • Rick, thank you. I deal with aches and pains of getting old as I watch my doggies’ speeded up decline, but nothing like either your author or what W has to deal with. As agonizing as having your back ripped open and then nailed up to hang until you die, it was acute, it was limited, and by the grace of God, Jesus had a fraction of what some crucifixion victims had to endure over days. Chronic, intense pain is something I can only imagine and don’t want to even go there. There is somehow a way of stepping back into another room, and I am thankful that up to now I am not having to learn to do that at that level of intensity. Thank you so much for taking care with W.

    • Thanks, w. I too am honored, to feed and watch the birds, squirrels, bugs, and all other of God’s critters on this beautiful day.

  3. This fits in with yesterday’s theme of gratitude on HavenToday.org.

    Charles said one blessing of thankfulness is it slows us down to savor the present.

    http://haven.streamon.fm/program-e-1446624000.000000

  4. Great stuff, Chap Mike. “Thank You” is the firm foundation for so much. We have untold riches to be thankful for. These are life giving reminders.

  5. When I take the dogs out for their morning duty at 5:30 in the morning the first thing I do is to look up at the stars. I first look for the constellation Orion, which is usually just overhead, and then, this time of year, I look to the east and spot Venus and Mercury, so bright and constant, and it reminds me that I am such a tiny speck, inconsequential to everything except my wife and the two dogs…and the Creator who put me here. Thank You, Father, for another day…

  6. David Cornwell says:

    “How did we get here?”

    Several times recently this thought has entered my mind. I think of the refugee crisis where hundreds of thousands of people walk away from their homes, families, home towns, native lands and head toward what they hope will be a new beginning. They make their way through weather, sickness, injury, and hunger to try for a new beginning in what they hope will be a welcoming country where they and their children can begin anew.

    It’s an ancient story.

    Or I think of those, especially children, who have attempted to enter the United States with some of the same hopes. And I think of our reaction to them. Or lack of reaction.

    And then I wonder— why was I born here? Is it part of a plan? Pure chance? God’s will? I have no idea actually. But it does place moral demands and choices before me.

    On the one hand I wake up and think of God when I see the beauty of his creation all around.

    On the other I think: How did I get here?

  7. That Other Jean says:

    I can’t help but think of Auntie Mame: “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Stop. Look up. Look around and be thankful–maybe to God, maybe to Nature, but the appreciation is important.

  8. OldProphet says:

    It’s a beautiful day here in SoCal. Holiday time! Eggnog, with Southern Comfort. The pleasure of friends under a harvest sky. God’s creation in full affect. Lots of challenges, but God is faithful; As for Mr.Trolle, who cares what he thinks. Said Pharoah to Moses in “The Ten Commandments”, “Let him rant on, so that all will know him to be mad”. So, let ET rant on. Of course, Moses was right. But not so ET.

  9. Tiger Tiger. burning bright,
    In the forests of the night;
    What immortal hand or eye.
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies.
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand, dare seize the fire?

    And what shoulder, & what art,
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And when thy heart began to beat.
    What dread hand? & what dread feet?

    What the hammer? what the chain,
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp.
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

    When the stars threw down their spears
    And watered heaven with their tears:
    Did he smile His work to see?
    Did he who made the lamb make thee?

    Tiger Tiger burning bright,
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

    -William Blake

    • Stephen,

      Are you saying, along with Blake, that an ignorant demiurge, who thinks he’s God, created our world by forcing spirits into material form with “furnaces” and “hammers”?

      • I misspoke: Blake isn’t saying it, but it’s the vision of the world that he has this poem, along with the other Songs of Experience, express. Blake himself, in his other poetic work, transcends the connected poles of Innocence and Experience, or attempts to do so.

        • Seeing that we have a couple of Blake-lovers here, I’m inclined to ask about the following poem. I like it, and once for half an hour or so I actually understood it. 🙂

          That half-hour is past, and I wonder: was Blake talking about his own personal perception of deity, in which Blake saw the traditional Judeo-Christian God of the Bible as Satan? And the “real God” as far above and beyond that?

          If so, what is Blake’s meaning of “every harlot was a virgin once”? I mean, like, duh. So what?

          (Blake would be so disgusted by my thick-headedness.)

          TO THE ACCUSER WHO IS THE
          GOD OF THIS WORLD
          by William Blake

          Truly, My Satan, thou art but a Dunce,
          And dost not know the Garment from the Man;
          Every Harlot was a Virgin once,
          Nor can’st thou ever change Kate into Nan.

          Tho’ thou art Worship’d by the Names Divine
          Of Jesus and Jehovah, thou art still
          The Son of Morn in weary Night’s decline,
          The lost Traveller’s Dream under the Hill.

          • The key to the meaning of “every harlot was a virgin once” is in the preceding and following lines: the Harlot is the Garment that the Virgin wears, and that Satan, being a Dunce taken in by the illusions that he himself has created, mistakes for the being, the Man (who in this case happens to be a woman), wearing it. Kate the pure can never be made into Nan the strumpet, no matter how Satan attempts to ensnare her in his illusion of the opposites of good and evil, Innocence and Experience. In fact, Satan himself, the Accuser who appears as the God and creator of this World, as Jesus and Jehovah, is himself the Dream of the lost Traveller, the Dream of Kate/Man, the Dream that is the illusion that the world is divided into the opposites of good and evil, Innocence and Experience. This is what constitutes humanity’s lostness, “…The mind forg’d manacles…”.

            At one level, Blake speaks of the God of the Old Testament, and the Jesus of traditional Christianity, as an ignorant, and even malevolent, demiurge who entraps spirit in the material world, which is characterized by suffering and death. But at a deeper level, Blake speaks of Satan as an illusion that mind generates along with God when it falls prey to its own illusion of a distinction between good and evil: when God is imagined, Satan inevitably appears as God’s shadow, the Accuser. For Blake, the way out of this impasse (which is inevitable, since “Eternity is in love with the productions of time) is to embrace the visionary wisdom that sees through the apparent opposition of good and evil, Innocence and Experience, to their underlying unity and interdependence. The true God, the true Jesus, is the “human form divine”, which dwells in every human being, and indeed in every living thing, “For everything that lives is holy”.

      • Robert F, since you asked…I am somewhat pedantically pointing out (letting Blake do the heavy lifting) that one who sees the magnificence and glory of this world must also see the horror and monstrousness of this world. Both visions are equally true. Neither is an illusion.

        • For Blake, the two visions depend on each other, and wherever one appears, the other follows like a shadow. Yes, both are true; but they form a single truth, not two separate truths. And for Blake there is another, greater truth, grasped by the visionary wisdom which sees beyond the apparent opposition between glory and horror to the unity that exists between them. From this latter perspective, they are an illusion, though an inevitable one that occurs because “Eternity is in love with the productions of time”.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      The vision of Christ that thou dost see
      Is my vision’s greatest enemy.

      • Yes, in the Everlasting Gospel Blake puts forth his vision of Christ, giving it as directly as possible rather than by indirection.

    • If you haven’t heard it before, I recommend the late composer John Tavener’s cover of this poem:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAl7V9MIiOQ&list=RDhAl7V9MIiOQ

      I also recommend it if you have heard it before.

  10. “Can’t you feel it in your bones
    Something isn’t right here
    Something that you’ve always known
    But you don’t know why

    ‘Cause every time the sun goes down
    We face another night here
    Waiting for the world to spin around
    Just to survive

    But when you see the morning sun
    Burning through a silver mist
    Don’t you want to thank someone?
    Don’t you want to thank someone for this?”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM51liNM6k0

    I give thanks for artists who can put into words, music, paintings, etc. those things that stir my soul but I lack the words or talent to express.

  11. The last three nights I have connected at the end of the day with an open fire in the fire pit on my back patio with a choice view until dark. There is something elemental about an open fire. We have been having an extended autumn here in northern lower Michigan, and I have been working outside these last three days taking advantage before the forecast rain tonight and lower temperatures to follow.

    Today I had the propane fireplace insert that came with the house replaced with a wood burner. It has a window in the door so that you can enjoy the flames, but it’s not like an open fire. Yes, I could have gone with the open fireplace but that is horribly inefficient, and I am the one either cutting the wood or paying someone else to do it. The propane insert, even with the glass door, was a joke, a travesty, and probably more expensive to run than my propane boiler furnace.

    There is something about an open fire that rivals, maybe reflects, the stars in the sky, and as to the stars, between ongoing pollution and ongoing cataracts, I don’t expect to ever again see all the stars in the Little Dipper like I did twenty years ago. An open fire is something I can see and appreciate, a uniquely human experience, thank You God.