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Draw near: Praising God with Desmond Tutu

Lynne Baab • Tuesday September 20 2022

Draw near: Praising God with Desmond Tutu

All you big things, bless the Lord.
Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria,
The Rift Valley and the Serengeti Plain,
Fat baobabs and shady mango trees,
All eucalyptus and tamarind trees,
bless the Lord.
Praise and extol Him for ever and ever.

All you tiny things, bless the Lord.
Busy black Ants and hopping fleas,
Wriggling tadpoles and mosquito larvae,
Flying locusts and water drops,
Pollen dust and tsetse flies,
Millet seeds and dried dagaa,
Bless the Lord.
Praise and extol him forever.

Former archbishop and anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu includes this prayer in his book An African Prayer Book. I love the specificity of the things in the prayer, and it motivates me to think of the big and tiny things in my world.

Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, Lake Washington, the Olympic Mountains, the Cascades. Here in Seattle, we have it easy when it comes to big things. I’m sure wherever you live, big things are praising God. I love trees, including the very biggest: redwoods, firs, pines, hemlocks, and cedars. Even medium sized trees like flowering dogwoods and big leaf maples are big compared to me.

The tiny things you notice will probably be different than mine. I might include numerous food items like sesame seeds and quinoa. Honey bees are essential to our food supply, and surely they are praising God with their busy, fruitful activity. Small flower petals, tiny Japanese maple leaves, and flitting hummingbirds seem to be praising God with their beauty. Surely the tiny bacteria in our gut that help us digest our food and do so many other things for us are praising God with their mysterious actions that are essential for human life.

This evocative prayer from Africa raises a question that relates to many verses in psalms: Is this really a prayer? Or is it a call to prayer?

Consider these verses:

Praise the Lord from the earth,
   you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
   stormy wind fulfilling his command! 
(Psalm 148:7, 8)

O sing to the Lord a new song;
   sing to the Lord, all the earth. (Psalm 96:1)

These calls to prayer are not, in my opinion, actually prayers. Yet they play a significant role in our prayer experience, in part because they remind us to pray. Listening to a call to praise directed at Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Everest motivates me to take a moment for praise. In addition, this kind of call to prayer helps us feel our connection to the whole created world. All parts of it were made by God, and we sing God’s praises alongside the beautiful creation.  

You may enjoy writing your own call to praise modeled after the African Canticle or a psalm. Be as specific as you can! You may find as you call others to prayer, your own prayers become more rich and complex.

Creator God, we praise you for the beauty around us. We praise you for the mountains, waters, skies, cedar trees, and Douglas firs. We praise you for tiny grains and seeds that we cook to make delicious food. We praise you alongside all those beautiful parts of your creation. Help us to notice the big and small gifts you give us. Help us join with creation in praising you. Amen.

(Next week: To whom do we pray? Illustration by Dave Baab: valley and mountains near Paradise, in the Cascades Mountains, Washington State. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below.)

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