It can all come to feel so mundane. Established. Foreseeable. So taken for granted. It’s a given. The daily commute. The workday. The repetition. All the hours, and things that we will do in them and see in them mapped out. We come to feel a certain predictability in our routines. We know what we’ll be doing at 9 o’clock on Monday morning, we know what we’ll see on our drive to work, we know what we’ll find when we reach home in the evening. And when we find it all as we know it will be, when we encounter the steadfast familiar one day after the other, it all comes to feel terribly ordinary, expected, anticipated, regular. A certainty of not much value or interest.
But what if we expected nothing at all? What if we started with nothing and realized that the fact that anything exists at all is a wonder that reaches beyond our greatest imaginings?
O Gracious Light.
These are the first three words of one of my favorite Anglican prayers. I love it because these words stop me right in my tracks, right at the source of my error—because if I take one thing for granted, it’s light. There has always been light, and I expect it to always be there. The presence of light comes to most of us as an unremarkable fact, when really nothing could be more astonishing. But then those words halt me. Gracious light. The Light is gracious. The prayer continues, “O Gracious Light, pure brightness of the ever living Father in Heaven, O Jesus Christ, Holy and Blessed…” It reminds us that the light comes to us, undeserved, usually unnoticed, rarely with any appreciation or wonder on our part. Yet there is nothing you or I have ever done to deserve the sun rising each morning. There is nothing we could ever do to somehow make it rise. But it does. And that’s what takes my breath away.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.”
The poet Walt Whitman wrote, “As for me, I know of nothing but miracles.”
In his delightful biography on St. Francis of Assisi, Chesterton describes the way in which that beloved saint went beyond even the joy of unexpected existence, and saw the pure dependence inherent in all of Creation. St. Francis viewed the world as if it were hanging upside down—all of the earth held up solely by the love of God. He delighted in the unexpected surprise of all that he saw, and he marveled that God kept it in subsistence, one moment after another. He saw the Earth: dangling “on a hair of the mercy of God.”
It is an arresting vision: to see the world as it is: in a state of infinite dependence. To see your city upside down, suspended in mid-air, its continuance entirely subject to its Maker. Chesterton calls it a “cold truth,” –chilling, certainly, with the stark reality of our weakness. And yet he argues that it was the deep source of Francis’s joy: to know that all things came as gifts from God, and to know that each moment the world continued to exist was the loving, gracious, abundant and overflowing gift of the generous Father. To be weak when God is strong is a joy.
This truth transforms our vision. It illuminates the existence of every atom as a great, continuing surprise. It gives all of Creation to us as gifts which we can enjoy with the delight of a child on Christmas morning. It shows forth every second that we continue to spin through space as the sustenance and faithfulness of God.
I have seen, in the midst of an ordinary commute, during an ordinary sunrise, the city of Los Angeles, shining in the distance: pillars of gold, blazing against the mountains. Light—gracious, undeserved light, reflected brilliantly off thousands of panes of glass. The sudden shock of it caught me up and held me and I knew it to be a shimmering miracle. What I always see, I could, for a moment, see clearly: the wonder, the phenomenon of light pouring into our lives, of Heaven touching Earth, of God reaching out to man.
The light comes, astonishingly, each day; L.A.’s skyscrapers burn like pillars of fire in the sunrise; the world hangs upside down and never falls. And we rejoice in the joy of existence, and delight in our dependence.