I wake to the first real winter’s morning of the season. Frost coats lawn, cars, and the curls of the corkscrew hazel and, like its cousin snow, muffles all Sunday sounds. But on the other sheltered side of the house, low light goldens the fences and new green growth continues its advancement.
Mint leaves multiply on what seemed previously dead stems. Palest pink blooms dot the edges of heather. Bulb shoots cut through the covering leaf mulch in unexpected places, having successfully evaded hungry squirrels.
A background hum of distant traffic and even more distant planes is interspersed by voluntaries of birdsong as golden as the light. A wood pigeon steadily grubbing its way along one flowerbed reminds me of yesterday’s avian visitors: a colour blocked magpie, a listening blackbird, familiar robin, and camouflaged treecreeper.
In such a setting, it’s easy for a heart to fill and overflow with praise for the Creator. Words seem superfluous as Nature itself gives grateful voice to the Great Gardener.
But it’s not always so easy or spontaneous.
Sometimes praise is a discipline or a sacrifice.
I’ve written before about how I am a natural pessimist, primarily seeing misspellings, faults, and mistakes before successes, kindnesses and blessings. During my most recent episode of depression, I’ve got into the habit of keeping a list of gratitudes in my prayer journal. And I’m learning (again) about the God who stays in the summer and the winter, the dark and the light, the panic and the calm.
Praise doesn’t come naturally. It’s an effort, a sacrifice for me.
But praise isn’t a case of ignoring the difficulties and pain and blithely singing with optimism instead. It’s about weighing the full range of evidence, holding the progress and the retreats together in my hands, acknowledging balance and subtleties. It’s about recognising the blacks and the whites and the greys, the shade that accentuates the highlights, the spatter and speckles, the spots and stripes, the whole pied beauty of life and emotions. Or, to borrow Gerard Manley Hopkins’s words further:
‘Glory be to God for dappled things’.
And even when few or no bright spots appear in the blackness. Even when that fog of fear descends and blinds me. Even when it doesn’t feel like He is there. That is the time to make a sacrifice of praise. To remember Who God is – my Father, my Friend, my Defender, my Counsellor, my Rescuer, my Finder. To turn my focus, even if just for a moment, from my circumstances to His character. To sound one blast of defiance against whatever holds me down. To stake an honest claim of:
‘I don’t know why this is happening and I hate it. But be God and show me, show the world, who You are and what You can do.’
Praise can be contrary to all our inclinations. Praise can be nothing but a dogged decision. Praise can be a giving up of giving in, of hopelessness, of anxiety and fear. Praise can be a sacrifice.
So let’s be courageous, bloody-minded. Let’s try it. And see how God responds.