Scripture for the Day: Psalm 104:24-34
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. 26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season; 28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. 33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord
Adam and I love cooking together, especially when we host dinner parties. Having people over for dinner is one of our favorite things to do. Once, when we were living in our 743 square-foot apartment in Nashville, we decided that despite the small space, we could and would accommodate 12 of our friends for dinner. We extended the dining table by moving it to the living room and adding two card tables, and the night of food, wine, and friendship brought joy and laughter well beyond the daily norm.
One evening a few weeks ago, Adam and I sat at the dinner table together in silence. We normally have a lot to talk about, but on this particular evening, neither one of us could really think of much to say. After all, like everyone else, we have spent 24/7 together since March, to the exclusion of just about everyone else. That night at dinner, I couldn’t describe my feelings other than “voided.”
Voided as in empty house. Voided as in deprived of social gatherings. Voided as in deprived of the ability to welcome people into our home with the hospitality to which we are accustomed. Voided of family in our home. Voided of visits to family. Just voided.
Just as I articulated how I was feeling, I looked out the window and noticed a bright red bird perched on the mulberry tree. I realized it was not an ordinary cardinal. So I looked online and discovered that what I was seeing was a scarlet tanager. I have never seen such a beautiful bird in the wild in the United States. So I ran outside with my camera to see if I could capture a picture of it. As I chased the bird down the hill to our neighbor’s front yard, I noticed not only one, but five scarlet tanagers hopping from branch to branch in our neighbor’s mulberry tree. That one small moment of noticing filled my soul with reminders that despite the social emptiness we all are experiencing right now, creation is still teeming with life. And simply noticing that bird gave me new life, not just in that moment, but in a more sustainable way. I found myself not just delighting in God’s creation, but literally chasing it down for about 30 minutes, until sunset.
Now, I’m a pretty extroverted person, and I love me a good crowd most of the time, but in times when I have not been able to have as much of a social life as I would like, I have learned that watching the rhythms of nature can reveal a lot about who God is. You don’t have to be an introvert to sit in silence and wonder, noticing how beautiful the world around us is. But you do have to bring yourself to stop and notice.
We have a patch of bright yellow lilies in our yard. Sometimes, they invite me to consider them, as Jesus invites us to do in Matthew. They neither toil nor spin, and yet Solomon in all his royal splendor was not dressed as one of those.
As we took an easy hike this past weekend, Adam and I looked below by our feet and noticed several millipedes creeping along the earth.
In the beaver pond we walked around, we noticed tadpoles turning into frogs, playing in the muddy waters and among the reeds.
At sunset, as we left the national forest, the mountains held the clouds above them as if God were touching them, turning them to smoke.
Psalm 104 expresses exactly what is happening in God’s creation. In fact, God’s creation itself is what brings the psalmist to sing praise to God. Only after stopping and noticing the intricacies of creeping things on the earth, swimming things in the sea, and little curls of sunset smoke rising from the mountains does the Psalmist finally turn to praise outright.
Contemplative practices such as noticing the details of creation can be scary at first. When we stop and pause and think and notice, those of us who, like me, would prefer to talk and play music and have 12 people over for dinner, might not know what to do at first. It can be scary to start noticing things we haven’t seen before. But when we start paying attention to the little things, we are drawn to the beauty of everything God has created, right down to the creeping things of the earth, and right up to the beautiful human beings God has asked to be stewards of them. And when we truly see, notice, and experience the beauty of all that God has created, we are driven to praise, praise that leads us not only to voiced praise but also to treating everything – and everyone – as if it or they were created in God’s image.
Let us pray: God, give us the wisdom to notice your good creation. Give us the joy to praise you aloud. And most of all, give us the courage to live out our praise for you. Amen.