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Breaking Open the Ordinary

Sandy Prather

09/20/2017

 

‘Look up, look way up’ to the sky full of promise

“Look up, look waay up.” For many years that familiar invitation was heard on an almost daily basis in our home. Actor Bob Homme, host of The Friendly Giant, along with puppets Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster, were kindly companions for my children in one of the few sanctioned television shows they were allowed to watch as preschoolers. Along with Sesame Street, it was a staple in our morning routine, taking them on imaginative adventures and giving me a much-needed break.

In 1870 Gerard Manley Hopkins looked up. Author Annie Dillard reports that the Jesuit poet began a three-year journal at that time which focused primarily on clouds. Among the entries: “April 22, 1871: clouds ‘stepping one behind the other, their edges tossed with ravelling’; “July 1871: ‘The greatest stack of cloud . . . I can ever recall seeing . . . The left was rawly made, . . . like the ringlets of a ram’s fleece blowing’ ” (106, For the Time Being, Dillard, 1999).

I’ve looked up a lot this summer. Our backyard patio is a welcoming place on a warm day and sitting there, reading and relaxing, it’s just a small stretch to turn one’s eyes upward. Branches from the surrounding spruce, elm and apple trees stretch high and frame the impossibly bright blue sky in lacy fragments of green. The clouds, glimpsed between the greenery, are ephemeral, shape-shifting and attention-grabbing. “The heavens are singing the glory of God,” the psalmist writes, and I am enthralled.

“No one told me about the sky,” a friend once said upon the occasion of his first visit to Western Canada, “No one told me about the sky.” Indeed.

“Look up, look waay up.” Our habit, I fear, is that we rarely do so. Preoccupied and distracted, we rush from place to place with heads bowed and eyes downcast. Whether we are focused on the cellphone in our hand or simply lost in our thoughts, the results are the same. Inattentive and unaware, we miss not only the landscape around us, but the skyscape above, and we are the poorer for it.

For above us is infinite beauty, an unfathomable universe and a swirling cosmos. “God created the heavens and the earth,” Genesis reminds us, and just as the earth itself is revelatory of God, so are the skies. Brother Sun and Sister Moon grace our days and nights respectively and sunrises and sunsets, often in astounding Technicolor, mark the boundaries of our nights and days. At night it might be the northern lights dancing overhead or the vast expanse of twinkling stars that give us pause. Any given day might find us daydreaming under fluffy cumulus castles or anxiously marking the progress of wind-whipped storm clouds.

“You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds,” an aware Henry David Thoreau wrote. Gazing upward, night or day, we enter a limitless horizon. Boundaries fall away and our human condition pierces us, leaving us feeling small and fragile. On this threshold, the encounter happens: awestruck, ambushed by mystery, we are moved to reverence.

Look up. “The world is God’s body. God draws it ever upward,” Teilhard de Chardin writes, referencing God’s cosmic dance where, infused with the all-permeating Spirit, everything is drawn into Christ. And therein lies our hope. Oriented skyward, we fall into an infinity held in God.

“God of our life,” Saint Augustine prays, “there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, turn our eyes to where the skies are full of promise . . .”

“Turn our eyes to where the skies are full of promise.” A friend recently started a walking program. “I walk with my head down,” she said. “I’m making an effort to raise it.”

“Raise it and look up,” I say. “Look waay up.”

It’s not just a fondly remembered invitation from a friendly TV character. It’s an invitation to keep a broader perspective, to let infinity touch our souls, and to keep our eyes solidly fixed on God.

Prather, BEd, MTh, is a teacher and facilitator in the areas of faith and spirituality. She was executive director at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta., for 21 years and resides in Sherwood Park with her husband, Bob. They are blessed with four children and 10 grandchildren.