The Sun never says
All this time
The sun never says to the earth
With a love like that,
It lights the
Daniel Ladinsky, from “The Gift”
This week’s poem, written by St. Louis-born Daniel Ladinsky, is not one that is intrinsically Christian. In fact, Ladinsky himself was actually a bit of a mystic, and moved to India to live amongst disciples of Meher Baba, a spiritual guide and self proclaimed Avatar there. He now resides in rural Missouri and remains a follower of Baba there.
Conversely, the composer of this musical setting is a deeply religious person, and perhaps one of the most significant Christian composers of our time, Dan Forrest.
So…what are we to do with that?
Is this piece a sacred piece, or a secular piece? By sharing it, whose values am I sharing – the mystic follower of Meher Baba, or the devout follower of Christ?
Obviously, by the simple fact that I am sharing it, I do not believe that I am proselytizing for the followers of Meher Baba by sharing this poem set to music. If that is what I was doing, my employment at a church might be in jeopardy.
A bit of wisdom on this front comes from the composer’s website, on which Forrest has a specific tab labeled “What I Believe” where he writes:
All good things, including any beauty that we encounter, are from God, through God, and ultimately to God. All beauty is God’s beauty, wherever it is found.
I found that simple statement to be utterly profound, and incredibly freeing.
Many of us in the Christian Tradition feel the need to only see God in that which glorifies him explicitly. We only listen to praise music, we raise our kids watching Christian TV shows, we engage only with Christian literature – but this is yet another way we make God smaller than He is.
The wisdom of Dan Forrest here is recognizing that in everything good, lovely, beautiful, God is already implicitly praised. This is scary to say, because it feels awfully close to pantheism. It feels….a bit too mystical. And yet Paul says in Ephesians 4:4-6,
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Note in Paul’s writing that he, in one breath, declares the singularity of God and the universality of God. He is the one hope we were called to, the one true God over all, and also the God through all and in all. This is not an either/or situation!
In our noble pursuit of avoiding heresy (one God over all), we train ourselves to look past the million ways He is working in the world that don’t happen in a church building. God in all and though all is not hyperbole. All means all!! God does not exclusively create beauty through perfect church-going people (good luck finding a perfect person anywhere actually). He uses the broken, the confused, even *gasp* the non-Christian to share His goodness in the world.
Considering that this year has left most of us outside those church walls for a while now, it might be worth reflecting on the places God chose to speak to us in a way we might not have anticipated.
As for this poem, I think finding God in it is pretty forthright. The love it describes so beautifully is the kind of love Christ has for me. The type of love I strive for in my life. The type of love that the world needs more of. The love it describes is that unconditional love of God that the scriptures set out for us.
So take this as permission to seek God in the sacred, the secular, and just about any place you didn’t think He could be. All means all…after all.
But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church