A Butterfly in the Heat: A Lesson on Reverence

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

“Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

©2011 Todd Rossnagel

It was a hot and beautiful afternoon and as we walked,  Katie (friend and colleague Katie McKay Simpson) noticed the most beautiful butterfly! It took her attention and as she pointed, it took mine. There it was, in some ways so out of place in the middle of an urban jungle.

Since then I’ve been thinking about being present. I’m sure that often in my struggle to get things done and be “successful” I miss beauty and the opportunity for awe and wonder. Duty calls and it grabs us so strongly, it demands our attention, and requires our devotion. In the meantime the butterfly goes by . . .

In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, calls us to “reverence” as the “practice of paying attention.” She says:

“From [my father] I learned that reverence was the proper attitude of a small and curious human being in a vast and fascinating world of experience.” (19)

Small and curious we can be, if only we took the time. Unfortunately we spend so much time trying to be big and well informed, leaving little room for the possibility of the unknown, mysterious, and surprising to come and visit us.

No wonder so many of us struggle to pray, to listen, and to live in community. It all takes attention, intention; it takes the practice of being present, the practice of reverence.

Until I read Taylor, I would not have called it “reverence.” Then I thought about the title we give pastors, “the Reverend.” I have often struggled with it for I don’t consider myself worthy of reverence. Then I realized that we are to be agents of reverence. We are called to facilitate the ministry of paying attention.

In one of my favorite bible stories a blind man “hears” that Jesus is passing by. In the midst of the loud crowd Jesus “stands still,” hears him cry out and calls on him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks, “. . . let me see again,” says Bartimaeus. The bible tells us in the Gospel according to Mark that “[i]mmediately he regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.” (Mark 10:52b)

So let us stop and pay attention, pay reverence. Let us be surprised by butterflies on a hot and humid afternoon in the middle of the city. Let us be agents of this reverence so that many can find healing of body, mind, and spirit.

“Glory be to God for dappled things . . .”

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