I have a friend who often talks about “getting her ducks in a row.” She likes planning and getting things in the right order, especially when big projects are at hand. It seems to me that a lot of the Christian life is about getting our ducks in a row, placing things in the right order, and getting our priorities right. This week’s readings would certainly point us in that direction. So how do we, as Christians, go about “getting our ducks in a row”?
When discerning the right order of things, we can be pretty sure we’re getting close when we’re giving God the glory. When we put God at the centre of our universes, when we stand in wonder and awe before the glory of God in all of creation — including ourselves — we’re close to getting our ducks in a row. That’s why Isaiah reminds us that “there is no other” but the Lord and the psalmist reminds us to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.”
There’s a paradox, though, in giving God the glory. When we give God the glory, we are not abasing our humanity but enabling it. When we proclaim the goodness of God, we become able to recognize that goodness in ourselves. When we praise the generative love of our Creator, we can better see that love being enacted in those around us. In other words, we’ve nothing to lose (and everything to gain) by giving to God the honour that is due. Because God is God, willingly infusing all of creation with the life force of love, giving God the glory reveals that self-same glory present in our very humanity.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder and you gave it to me.” Praying for wonder and actively nurturing our capacity for awe are important spiritual exercises. Wonder and awe are the gifts that allow us to give God the glory and keep the right order of things.
When have we last been filled with wonder and been awe-struck? For me, it happened recently on the streets of central London. I spent an evening with the Community of Sant’Egidio. This group of young people gathers every Saturday evening to make sandwiches, pray, and then go visit their friends who live on the streets. And that is what it is, a weekly visit with their friends. They know each person by name, they know their histories and the struggles, and have developed real relationships with those without a home. There is a deep and mutual respect mediated by the act of giving and receiving a sandwich. There’s nothing fancy, there’s nothing difficult, but there is a true manifestation of the glory of God in those encounters that happen every week, rain or shine, on the streets of London. I stand in wonder and awe before the glory of God made manifest in the simple act of receiving and giving.
This week’s gospel is also teaching us about getting our priorities straight. When Jesus reminds us to give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s, he not only gets himself out of a sticky situation but he also shows us where our fundamental commitment must be. Our hearts belong to God, our praise belongs to God, and our very being belongs to God. Caesar can have what’s left.
Yet, it’s so hard to get our ducks in a row. There’s always the temptation to put our own duck first, to ensure that our self-interests are attended to first, to take the glory/credit for ourselves. Rather than acknowledging our radical dependence on God in all things, we declare our self-sufficiency. Our ducks get scrambled and start going madly off in all directions.
What is true of us as individuals is also true for us as communities. When we declare that our own communities, our own nations, our own race, our own whatever, comes first, we’re forgetting to give God the glory. We’re putting ourselves at the centre and chaos ensues. That nature of things is such that we are called to recognize both our radical dependence on God and our radical interdependence with each other. Anytime we declare ourselves to be first, our ducks fall out of line. The results are disastrous.
The task for us, then, is to discern those actions that best give God the glory, that allow us to recognize our radical dependence on God and our radical interdependence with each other, and increase our capacity for wonder and awe. When it comes to such discernment, the Quakers put it beautifully: “Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities. Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness” (Advices and Queries, #28). Really, that’s what giving God the glory — and getting our ducks in a row — is all about, it’s about “attending to what love requires” of us in every moment of every day.
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.