Praise, Wonder, and John Muir

Praise, Wonder, and John Muir May 13, 2019

Wonder is a word for a life saturated with praise.

Regardless of belief system, we don’t need to be afraid to praise.


Praise God!

Praise reality.

Praise the cosmos.

Praise color. Praise paint.

Praise bodies, animal, human and celestial.

By whatever name you call the endless depths, the ultimate concern, praise.

There are some people who allow wonder and praise to overtake their lives.

These are the saints, the prophets, the artists, the mystics.

John Muir is one such wonder-filled man. He is born in Scotland, in 1838, to a stern Christian minister for a father. His father beats him while preaching about moral, Christian behavior. Even from a young age, John Muir feels that his true home and church is in nature. He drops out of college, suffers a temporarily blinding accident in an Indianapolis factory, and then spends time wandering the country somewhat aimlessly. Shortly after the Civil War, he walks a thousand miles from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico. He walks from San Francisco to Yosemite.

From his playing in the forest as a boy to trekking mountains as a man, he is filled passion for nature’s beauty and majesty. The only language he can come up with to describe his experience is that of deep spirituality.

He says that Nature baptizes him.

He says that mountains at dawn are cathedrals open to the Divine Soul.

He says that each drop of rain is God’s messenger, an angel of love.

He says that all of nature is a Temple.

This is the language and heart of wonder.

Wonder lifts us out of ourselves. It focuses our attention, hearts, senses, and curiosity on that greater depth that some call God, mystery, or beauty.

Praise in the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible is usually outward focused. The subject in Psalms of praise is typically God rather than the human, which is to say, that a life filled with wonder becomes less about me. Wonder-full life becomes less about human being, about my little turf of meaning and importance, and more about God, reality, mystery, and the whole.

You could even call our many crises, from environmental to political, crises of wonder. We have desacralized the earth, become disenchanted from the intrinsic holiness of fellow human and living beings.

When rock is no longer holy, then we drill and hydraulically fracture.

When people are no longer holy, then we build walls, deport, and imprison.

We have placed ourselves, companies, countries, opinions, our one true religion, at the center.

But we are not the center.

We are one part of a whole.

Wonder and praise can make the world sacred again.

As Stephen Mitchell puts it in his translation of Psalm 148: Praise in the depths of matter. Praise, whirling electrons, whales, and all creatures of sea, wild animals, tiniest one-celled beings.

Let everything that has breath praise.

Photo by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash

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