Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thirty-fifth Tuesday

I read this sentence to my field biology students this morning:
"We turned downriver on a path skirted by willows in which red-wing blackbirds made the day still more liquid with their 'Kon-keree! kon-keree!'"    -from Rascal by Sterling North
The reason I like that sentence and the reason I read it to my students is that it is very specific.  Sterling knew that he was going downriver past willow trees and hearing red-wing blackbirds.  He knew the exact liquid call that the red-wings make.  Think how dull that sentence would be if, instead, it read, "We went by the river on the path past the trees and heard birds sing."  The second sentence might describe the same event, but it lacks the power of specific knowing and naming.  Good writers know that specificity matters.

This year, I'm trying to help my mostly suburban, fairly nature-illiterate, somewhat distracted and distractable students to observe, notice details, make distinctions.  I am urging precision and attention to particulars in their naturalist's notebooks.  I am pushing them to learn names.  I hope that by doing this, not only will their nature knowledge grow, but they will also feel a deeper appreciation of the magnitude and majesty of God, who made not just birds, but red-wing blackbirds, hummingbirds, and barred owls.

In class this morning, we looked at leaf shapes, margins, and apices.  We found a sphinx moth caterpillar.  We learned about Procyon lotor (the raccoon, in honor of Rascal) and his taxonomic classification.  It was all very specific.

After class, we joined the other moms and students  in the worship center for our co-op prayer time.  I heard children thank God for "the world," "everything You do for us," and several other fairly non-specific things.

As I listened, I kept thinking, "Thank you God, for sandwiches."  Isn't that odd?  I'm not sure why I was thinking that except that Joel and I had talked about sandwiches on the way to co-op and I had described a particularly good turkey, tomato, lettuce and gorgonzola cheese one I'd eaten on Sunday.  Maybe, since it was lunch time, I was hungry.  Maybe the Holy Spirit was prompting me toward thankfulness for a rather mundane, but fairly specific thing.

I was afraid if I prayed that little prayer of thankfulness for sandwiches out loud, the children might start to giggle.  But then, something happened.  Several other very specific items came to mind - frequent flyer miles, the car repairman, my shoes - and I felt I could no longer be silent.  God gives us very specific gifts each day.  How often I miss how appropriate and timely his gifts are because I fail to name them, one by one, with detail and precision.

I think a general prayer of thanks, like that second sentence above, can be correct, but lacks power.

The lesson for prayer this morning was, for me, the same one I am trying to teach my students in field biology:

Slow down
Be quiet
Sit still
Observe carefully
Look at the details and
Record the specifics.

The work of noticing and naming specifics works the same way for me, in prayer as it does in field observation.  I marvel more and God gets bigger.

And so, now, I give thanks for:

1221.  ice cold limeade with ginger syrup
1222. comfy, cushioned flip flops
1223.  frequent flyer miles
1224.  an honest, close-by, kind car repairman
1225.  schedules that dovetail
1226.  turkey sandwiches, especially with gorgonzola cheese
1227.  the air conditioner in my car on a hot day
1228.  the way the sun hits the fern on the porch in the morning
1229.  a fan at night and cool air
1230.  Kristin who met Laura and Ijen and then Tom and went to the park on a Sunday afternoon and then ate ice cream at my house about five (?) years ago and sat in my living room to talk about missions yesterday
1231.  a very happy young man who has met a very special young woman, John and Helen you make me smile
1232.  doctors that can figure out strange fevers and lingering coughs
1233.  reviving neglected communication and being received and forgiven
1224.  Amanda, who pays attention to details
1225.  a week in NY with Erin and her family
1226.  a curious middle school girl not afraid of a caterpillar
1227.  tiny winged jewels, sitting on an open palm and suddenly disappearing in a buzz of wingbeats

Thank you, too, again to Ann for prompting so many of us to thank God for all the particulars!

holy experience


Bonnie said...

Amen to listening to the whispers of His Power ( Amy Carmichael)

Scotty and Lisa said...

Thanks for reminding me to slow down and recognize the little things that God is doing around me everyday and in my life. :)

Amber Benton said...

A very good piece of writing, Beth. (I can't wait until our Field Biology class begins - I wish I could participate myself!) A very good reminder that EVERYTHING we do we can do in such a way to honor God and bring him glory. Everything can become worship - it's all in the specificity and the ATTENDING, being present. That brings honor and reverence, the being. We must recognize our limitations to be in a moment like that, we are finite, but God is infinite. This also reminds me of something I heard at the conference this year - that habits can be sacraments. Kelly, was that in Art Middlekauf's talk? Anyway, thank you dear friend for the way in which you attend to so many people and so many things. I too am thankful for that kind car repairman (my truck is there this morning). I am also thankful for frequent flyer miles --- for you --- I'm not sure I would be as thankful if they were for me :) Have a great week!

Laura A said...

I loved this! I loved the specificity of it. It's like saying thanks to God for making a tomato a tomato. It shows we noticed. And besides, don't we all like specific compliments?