When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
- Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
Recently, someone told me that they begin every day by walking outside, taking a deep breath of fresh air, and thanking God for being God.
So simple. So essential.
We've all heard about the importance of gratitude, but we still so often fail at implementing it in our daily lives with an intensity that matches the greatness of the one to whom we are grateful. In times of crisis we demand things from Him, and in times of peace, our prayers grow shallow so as not to disrupt the calm. In both cases, we actively avoid the point of prayer, which is very simply and sometimes painfully: to set us free from ourselves by entering into the presence of God. In other words, the purpose of prayer is to come home.
The Message version of Psalm 100 says,
On your feet now—applaud God!
Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence.
Know this: God is God, and God, God.
He made us; we didn’t make him.
We’re his people, his well-tended sheep.
Enter with the password: “Thank you!”
Make yourselves at home, talking praise.
Thank him. Worship him.
For God is sheer beauty,
all-generous in love,
loyal always and ever.
There are two things in this translation of the Psalm that are as refreshing as a breath of crisp, fresh air - and that feel just as freeing as sprinting full speed into the ocean with our arms open wide:
God made us; we didn't make Him. Thank God that God is God... and that we are not. Think about this. Thank God that we can be utterly baffled by the world around us - the poison, the pain, the suffering and the darkness - and also know that God is not baffled or surprised. He is not distracted or exhausted like we are either. He knows more than we know. In that... breathe in.
Praise takes us home. "Thank you," is the only secret password we need to know. With that, we enter into God's full presence, where we are completely at home. Safe. Sheltered. Embraced and loved. Like that first breath of "home" when you return from a trip away - God's presence offers a peace that washes over us and sets us free from the discomfort of being anywhere we don't belong. In this... breathe out.
We must be persistent in our thanksgiving. We must be as persistent in the way we give thanks to God for being as we are persistent about the rhythm of our breath. Yes, this feels impossible on days when things are in crisis, when people are sick, when our lives are growing more complicated, when we have what feels like no control over our surroundings. But we aren't called to thank God for our circumstances, we are called to take a deep breath and thank God simply for being God.
We can stop there, in the very eye of the storm, breathing in deep and breaking free from ourselves to sing our way into His presence - our home.