Praise Song for the Ordinary
What I heard in my meditation this morning: Engage with Praise
plum skin or flesh?
sun warmed back
the perfume of that hosta
canang suri or sari?
canang sari all the same
ordinary life goes brilliant with gratitude
hanging wash to stretch
hanging wash to step away and out
hanging wash to dry it
captivated by the place I am building in my 1000 words-a-day story
a woman who speaks in phrases from children’s books
a woman who is lost
a woman who is found
Miranda posting a meme
Finding myself so joyful
How do you engage with praise?
Do you praise others (hi there, oh my gosh I love the way you just jumped for joy!)?
Do you like to be praised?
We so readily give praise to little kids and animals. Somehow we stop, once a person is big enough to be responsible for making sure they do what you expect of them, the valve for praise slowing closes. I think this is why grandparents and aunts and uncles are so cherished by kids, the praise valve has not closed with them. (I know we all have stories about crabby elders, but mostly, I am talking mostly, grands of all sorts still have open praise valves for grandchildren) I notice how short I am with praise for my teenagers who so routinely tick me off. I have had to shift and offer praise, like salt AND pepper…. not just momguidanceadvisedirectiondemands but also warm attentive compassionate praise.
l love receiving praise. Unexpected praise. Praise from people who don’t know me well so they are less likely to be lying in order to make me feel better and stop asking them for praise. I like the spontaneous praise-”hey, I like your hair!” from the checkout person at the grocery who has seen me in late winter and knows from whence this hair comes. I love the praise that comes in love letters and notes and postcards, my cherished missives from my soulful community of mail artists. I love you. Lulu. That is praise of a sort because it reflects all the light of that being (Lulu) on me. And that, somehow, is praise to me.
Right about now, some writers would be reaching for a Wikipedia definition of praise and tell you which famous people like praise. Don’t all famous people like praise because that is what makes them famous?
I think we could all do with a little more praise in our days.
Not only for the people in our life, the kid who brings you your teacup, the husband who does the soccer pick-up, the sister how remembers your birthday, but for the world around us.
I’d like us all to raise our praise.
Raising our praise. Engaging with praise.
If this makes you nervous, if you hear your mother telling you not to get too big for your britches, as I sometimes do when I am flushed with a moment of praise, then just stay with me for a little while.
I am inspired by a poem by Barbara Crooker.
Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.
this poem appears by permission of the author
from her beautiful book of poetry titled Radiance Word Press, 2005
See how Barbara’s praise of otherwise run-on-the-mill weeds and stuff raises it to a miracle before our very eyes?
Then, I wrote my own praise poem after hers.
Here is an excerpt. I wrote this while at Yale with the International Women’s Writing Guild last summer and so some of the poem you will link to has stuff about that group of people in it.
~ by Suzi Banks Baum after Barbara Crooker June 25, 2012
Praise lumps of clay pinched in to breasts and dimpled thighs.
Praise teeth and the yielding fuzz of peach.
Praise all dogs for I love them not,
but praise them anyway because others do.
Praise the praying mantis, dervish, scribe and washerwoman.
What I want to get to here, in praising, is that in order to praise, you must slow down.
Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow, does not just happen automatically.
You are missing the point of that song and that prayer and every other invitation to praise if you are mouthing empty meaningless words.
When I stop, I begin to see praiseworthy right here in my little life as a full-time Mom on a short street in a small town in a mighty state, in this complex and marvelous country.
When I stop I see the blush on a plum.
I smell the perfume of the common, everyone-has-them-and-what-is-that-smell hostas that are truly gorgeous and unless you bend over and sniff at their open invitations, you will miss them.
The same goes with your kids.
Or your mate.
Until you stop, put on your glasses if you must, and look in to the deep pools of their eyes, you will miss the small stuff you aren’t supposed to be sweating.
Please, okay, don’t sweat the small stuff, but would you at least see it?
For here, in the ordinary is our extraordinary life.
How our hands work, joints, ligaments, pulse popping up over my wrist bone.
How your mate’s eyebrows meet in the middle.
How your child’s nose is changing has they mature, so much so you begin to see your elegant grandmother’s profile in your budding teen ager.
How all the day long we brush past the marvels at our fingertips looking for the big, flashy marvels that arrive with a lot of noise and smoke and glitter, that come riding in with rings on their fingers and bells on toes.
Those things are great. Sure.
But they won’t sustain a sense of utter amazement. Those big splashy events speed us up. They don’t lead you to slowing down which I am positively 100% scientifically sure will lead you to praise. Then gratitude. And then, like Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry Magazine, says about poetry, but I like to take is as for praise:
Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.
Praise to the washerwomen.
People always are incredulous when I mention I hang my wash outside.
Surely, I could just squash my huge loads of laundry in to the dryer. Some days, that is all I can do. But most days, I hang it outside because the act of hauling a heavy basket (oh, it is good for my core and my abs) allows me to step out of my life in this house, out of the fray of family and duties, and in to the backyard, where all sorts of things are happening year round. Stepping out there to pin socks and pants and sheets on a cotton rope to dry in the sun slows me way down and I have mental space, spiritual space, sensual space, and physical space to breathe.
A few grapes left on the vines.
Soil needs turning in the garlic patch.
Glistening drops of last night’s rain on the elderberry.
Heavy pears weighting the branches down for deer to eat.
I notice my skin.
My tan big hands.
My lower back.
And I take a moment to stretch or hula-hoop or swing on the swing.
And I return to my family or my work or whatever I have going a little saner and more ready to see the wonder around me.
From that point, I can take what I have seen in to my writing or not.
I might never tell you about the dragonfly that stood stock still for an hour here at my side on the railing where I am writing, where it waited for the sun to warm the air enough for it to fly off, but not before I got to look at it closely.
Praise the marvel of the wings of a dragonfly, which are fitted for flight and fitted for drawing because of how all those tiny lines fit together within the shape of each wing.
I might not ever put that in to my work, but it resides in me, feeds me and brings me joy. What better way to meet the work of the world, of growing my self and this family and our service in the world? Doing the work we were made for.
My work is in loving the world, says Mary Oliver.
That is how praising works for me.
I slow down.
I see it.
I share it.
It changes me.
Thank you to Barbara Crooker for permission to reprint your beautiful poem, which stands in my imagination as a very certain day in the fall.
I praise you Barbara for all your work in the world, your books filled with poems, which ask us all to notice and in noticing, we praise.
All my love,