Almost every time I retreat to New Norcia, I have a particular moment. It’s happened so often now that I reckon I conjure it whether it was going to happen or not. The moment happens just before lunch as I’m waiting for the monks to return from Vespers for their main meal. I’m usually sitting on a bench in a lavish Spanish-mission courtyard with the sun streaming through. It’s peaceful and idyllic.
The first two times this scene played out (over a decade ago), I was sitting on this bench waiting and praying as I saw a small lizard meander across leaf that had fallen to the ground.
It triggered a poem we studied in English Lit by Bruce Dawe called Sometimes Gladness. In contains the line: ‘Sometimes gladness, sometimes grief, the lizard on the laurel leaf.’
For other reasons, I went searching for the rest of the poem today because I’ve pondered too many times what the lizard had to do with the gladness and grief (aside from the convenience of the rhyming leaf).
What I’ve found poignant, though, as I’ve pondered the lizard, the leaf, or just the line from the poem, is that gladness and grief come and go. Sometimes they stay for a while. And, in the scheme of things, that can be almost incidental, like the lizard on the leaf. Just something that seems to go on while everything else is going on.
“From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same the Lord’s name is to be praised”, says the writer of Psalm 113. Many of you have probably sung as much.
For me, it’s an eternally hopeful predecessor to the lizard on the leaf thing. God is to be praised. Forever and a day. Sun up, sun down. Not mechanically or out of duty and not disconnected from our circumstance, but because there is no one like the Lord our God. No one higher, greater and more glorious. No one who reigns and rules, yet stoops and serves as He metes out his power, justice and compassion.
The context of praising God from sun up to sun down isn’t obligatory for the psalmist; it’s responsive. The lizard does its thing…its unconnected with the gladness and grief. But our God is intimately involved in our lives. With the poor and needy, and the barren woman alike. All find rest, refuge and a place in the family of God.
113 is another catalyst to praise Him. In gladness and grief, light and dark, from now and forever.