by Howard Thurman

               There must be always remaining in every man’s life

               some place for the singing of angels –

               some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful

               and by an inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into

               a new and creative relatedness –

something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living

and glows in one bright light of penetrating beauty and meaning — then passes.


               The commonplace is shot through with new glory –

               old burdens become lighter,

               deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting.


               A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives

               we are trying to grow tall enough to wear.


               Despite all the crassness of life,

               despite all the hardness of life,

               despite all of the harsh discords of life,

               life is saved by the singing of angels.


Yesterday the phrase “consider the lilies of the field” jumped out at me in my morning devotional. I decided I would incorporate into my semi-sabbatical plan time in nature, and started by exploring a new nature trail. I came over a hill and was struck by the beauty of this small lake reflecting the deep blue sky and as Thurman would say, “the commonplace was shot through with new glory.”  It was one of those moments that could be described as a place reserved for “the singing of angles.”

For me this poem is a reminder to embrace the wonder of life.  We so often get caught up in the crassness, hardness and discord that we fail to make room for wonder.

In those moments when we are filled with awe, we can’t help but praise God if only in our spirit.  Psalm 100 instructs us to enter into God’s presence “with praise and thanksgiving” yet we most often approach with complaints and demands.  I think the second practice that I will add to my semi-sabbatical plan will be creating time to open myself to wonder and to respond with “praise and thanksgiving.”

To open ourselves up to wonder requires that we focus not on what is broken but on what is beautiful.  One of the core principals of Asset Based Community Development is to focus on what a community has instead of what it is lacking.  It is the embodiment of Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

It is so core to our work that ‘optimism’ is one of the 12 core values of Embrace, and probably the one that I have neglected the most during the frantic pace of the past 12 months.

During my Christmas travels on I95 between Richmond and DC with pouring down rain in bumper to bumper traffic, I was rescued by my iPad and TED Talks.  I watched a half dozen of these short video’s on a myriad of topics.  One of my favorite was by Shawn Achor titled, “The happy secret to better work”

In this talk, I learned about Positive Psychology which argues that the external world accounts for only about 10% of a person’s happiness and that 75% of a person’s success in life is defined by their levels of optimism, social support, and their ability to perceive stress as a challenge instead of a threat.

Achor argues that if you raise the level of happiness in the present, then intelligence, creativity and energy all go up.  He also provides us with practices that can rewire your brain for happiness.  First on that list was gratitude, which Achor suggests can be practiced by listing 3 new things a day you are thankful for.  Second on the list was journaling about one positive experience you have had that week.  Those two practices were followed by exercise, meditation and random acts of kindness.

So if you don’t trust Howard Thurman or the Apostle Paul, just know that their advice is backed up by social scientists and they all support making room for the “singing of angles” – praise, wonder, optimism, gratitude.

As we prepare to enter 2013, I pray we do so with praise and thanksgiving and that throughout this coming year, we prepare a “place for the singing of angles” by opening ourselves up to the wonder of this life.