Praise

It had been raining day after day. Still early, we had already had one downpour and lots of showers. When I noticed a slight lightening up of the clouds, I headed out for a walk on the nearby greenway. Immediately my eye was caught by the autumn leaf colors. The yellow, orange, red, and mahogany of sweet gum leaves. The green maple leaves with paint blotches of red. Even the leaves on the ground—yellow, glistening as if sunlight, in comparison with the gold and brown leaves around them. My heart responded—oh my God!

There were birds everywhere. I imagined that they were as happy to be out stretching their wings as I was. They were flying from one branch to another, flitting or hopping among low-lying bushes, twitting and chirping and squeaking. Oh my God! I had to stop and take it in, simply be in the presence.

The night before, we had gone to a potluck at our Quaker meeting. A friend had brought a freshly baked whipped cream pound cake, and blueberry compote to go on top of each slice. Of course I had a piece. The first bite—oh my God!

There are many kinds of experiences that call us to praise our Creator and Sustainer. Maybe it is waking up to the new morning with the one you have loved for a long time. Maybe it is music exquisitely played. Maybe it is being with a group of friends, feeling at one with one another, caring and sharing. Maybe it is that a loved one recovered from a serious illness.

The Psalms express well that praise that arises from the depths of our souls: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name (Psalm 103).” To praise God is not for God’s benefit. It is for us. To praise reminds us of where we fit in things, lifts up humility with no sense of humiliation, and reminds us who we are and Whose we are.

Queries:

Does praise of God come easily to your heart and lips, or are there questions and qualms that block the praise?

Is there value in praising God regularly even if the external circumstances that most likely call it forth are not there?

Prayer:

“Wow!” “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

For further reflection:

“I will hold you above everything that exists—my God, my Holy Protector, awed by your name always, in gladness as well as sorrow” (See Psalm 145 as translated by Hebrew scholar and poet Pamela Greenberg).

“Praise the Creator from the sky, praise the Eternal from the heights, let all the angels sing out in praise!” (See Psalm 148).

For the ultimate in praise, see Psalm 150. For this psalm I prefer the New Revised Standard Version.

Spiritual Gifts of Aging

We recently celebrated what would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. During the time she lived in a retirement community a short walk from my house, she taught me about true strength and graceful aging, none of which she told me in words.

In 1967, I married and left home, my sister went to college, and my father died—all within about a month. My mother found her way through all of that loss. She just kept going. At the time I was too tied up in myself to notice. Only after I saw her move here—clearing out on her own a large home and letting go a lifetime of possessions, quietly adjusting to a new community, and flourishing—did I begin to realize what strength she had.

Years later her Parkinson’s disease progressed until she was too unstable to care for herself. Blessed then with a wonderful part-time caregiver, she turned that relationship into a source of joy and flourished still. Before too long she had to renew her driver’s license. When she was unable to pass the test, she simply asked for a government identification card and graciously let the driving go.

Eventually congestive heart failure sent her to the health care wing. Again she recognized and cooperated with the reality of her condition. She let go more possessions and accepted living in only one room, especially once it had a collection of family photos she could see.

During her last months when I visited her she no longer had energy to watch television or follow her beloved March Madness basketball. She simply glowed at having me present. It began to dawn on me how much she did love me, how much she had always loved me even when I hadn’t felt it, how she had given me gift after gift while I was busy with my own life.

Now it’s my turn to be getting older. How will I cope with the diminishments? Can I let go what I have worked hard to develop and collect? Will I choose bitterness and fear or wisdom and grace? Will I live in regret and disappointment, or can it be with joy and love? As my outward body declines will my inward life grow stronger? These are spiritual questions.

Queries:

What story can you tell about loss or diminishment, yours or another’s, and what have you learned?

What are your spiritual resources for coping and flourishing when you are getting older?

Prayer:

Prayerfully review your life, noticing the ups and the downs, and claim the gifts that accompanied both.

For further reflection:

“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty. . . In God alone it can rejoice. . .(James Nayler’s last words, 1660).