Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 23, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: Praying With Our Eyes Open To See God And The Glory Of His Creation

New York Times Op-Ed:  How to Pray With Our Eyes Open, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3The church is now in the season of Easter, which is a 50-day period of joy and celebration. During this time, Christians around the globe celebrate and proclaim that Jesus physically rose from the dead, not as a spirit but in a body — one marked with scar tissue and freckles, one that ate and drank, one that, though transformed, was still recognizable, touchable and palpable. Christians believe that when Jesus rose he walked on hard earth and ate fish caught from real, salty seas. This resurrected body points to the ultimate destiny of humanity. It says that we will not float away to some faraway heaven but that eternity will be found right here on earth, in what the Bible calls a “new heaven and new earth,” a place with bays and banjos, artichokes and art, dandelions and dancing. Easter is not, then, a celebration that is primarily “spiritual,” if by that we mean nonmaterial. It is instead the ultimate affirmation of materiality. It tells us that the Christian faith is as interested in mountains as it is morality; that it asks for attention not just to dogma but to dogwoods, that it is occupied not only with our souls but with our five senses.

The resurrection of Jesus is a proclamation that the material world is good and worth savoring, protecting and attending. So, to inhabit this season fully, we need to take up the task of embracing the goodness of the palpable, analog world, whether it be to make time for a hike or to notice the sweetness of gentle rain or to revel in the bitterness of good coffee or to listen to the laughter of children. “God is the biggest materialist there is,” the priest, author and chef Robert Farrar Capon once said. After all, God created the material world, Capon pointed out, he must enjoy it even more than we do. ...

The more I have tried to seek God — the more I reach for truth, beauty and mystery that I know exceeds my grasp — the more bright, vivid and vital the things of earth become.

Not to say that they are always beautiful and lovely. The sorrow, sin and ache of the world — the violence of nature itself, which is “red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson put it — is clearer to me each year. Yet, as I grow in faith and in years, the lusciousness of this earth of ours, the glory in even the most ordinary of backyards, the astounding excessiveness of the natural world feels more and more urgent for me to regard and honor. There is no dimming of the things of earth, only a deeper sense of call to them. Christianity, to me, is nothing if not sensual.

One of my favorite essays is a 1986 piece by the late theologian Eugene Peterson, about the work of Dillard. He describes her as a woman who “prays with her eyes open.” Instead of closing her eyes to focus on things above, on so-called spiritual things, prayer becomes an act of noticing, of reveling, of cultivating the attention that leads to devotion. Peterson says that Dillard’s task was to exegete creation “in the same way John Calvin was an exegete of Holy Scripture. The passion and intelligence Calvin brought to Moses, Isaiah and Paul, she brings to muskrats, rotifers and mockingbirds.” ...

This spring, in the 50 days of Easter, I want to pray with my eyes as open as possible, to attend to the world around me in ways that do not always come naturally to me. This will require slowing down, logging off and opening myself up to the material world, which takes discipline and more than a little grace. This asks me to turn my eyes on Jesus and, by his light, let the things of earth grow bigger, stranger, and more and more captivating.

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Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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