“Beautiful, Just Beautiful.”

Psalm 147: 1-11

Our earliest memories may include beautiful things we’ve seen: sunsets, beach scenes, mountains. Others of our earliest memories are likely things we’ve heard: music, wind in the trees, or the voices of people who love us telling us that we are beloved and beautiful. Images and sounds catch hold in our memory. And even more powerful if they have image, sound, and scent together. Perhaps you have memories of a beloved grandparent in an expanse of yard telling us that we are loved and beautiful with the scent of lavender or pipe tobacco blending in. We tend to remember those moments of feeling incredibly loved – we hang on to them because not only do they shape us, but they even hold us together. Our hearts treasure those words, “You are loved. You are beautiful.”

  1. There is a strange paradox about beauty. Often things that are the most beautiful have some kind of flaw. The flaw points to beauty in some way that we cannot readily explain. That’s true in art – the Mona Lisa is not the prettiest woman, after all. It’s true in poetry – think of the irregular rhythm and punctuation of eecummings. It’s true in nature as well. The perfect or symmetrical doesn’t draw our eye in the same way. This principle even extends to our brokenness.

In Psalm 147, praise for the beauty of creation pairs with thanks for the ways that God has aided and rescued the people of Israel. Creation and deliverance are inter-woven as the activities of God. The two stanzas of our reading today may have been two shorter psalms later combined. In each stanza, the sweep of God’s activity ranges from cosmic powers of creation to particular care for God’s people. God as the author of creation who gives each star a name (v. 4), who covers the skies with clouds and makes rain for the earth (v.8), who clothes the mountains with green grass (v. 8) is the same God who feeds baby ravens when they cry (v. 9) and heals the brokenhearted, tenderly bandaging wounds (v.3). This astounding claim lies at the heart of biblical faith: “that the power that has strewn the stars into their courses (v.4) is the same power that – or better, WHO, heals the broken-hearted (v.3), lifts up the downtrodden (v.6) and declares an intelligible, personal, life-giving word (vv. 19-20)” to God’s people.

CONTRA: We sometimes have a false idea that we should only approach God when we are shiny, as perfect as possible. We want to at least appear perfect. We tend to hide what is hurting, hide our brokenness and vulnerability – when God wants our real, authentic, broken and dirty selves to show up in the truth of who we are. We wrongly think that we can’t bear the truth of our brokenness. Our culture discourages admitting our imperfections – in politics and church especially. But it is when we open ourselves up WITH our brokenness that we can see the truth of who we are, and who the world is, in a much deeper way. We see more beauty, in ourselves and in the world. We see the sacredness in the world – like the world is on fire with it! And we cannot see that unless we stop lying to ourselves. The contemplative journey is not about our air-brushed image– it is about showing up in God’s presence with what is real.

This sweep of God’s activity in the psalm reveals an understanding of our brokenness. IF we were not brokenhearted, there would be no need for God to heal our wounds. IF we were not downtrodden, there would be no need for God to lift us up. It is our brokenness which offers an opportunity for God’s restoration.

Leonard Cohen’s piece, “Anthem” speaks into this truth:

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything) That's how the light gets in

It is our brokenness, our imperfections, that offer God a place to work. The cracks are how the light, even how God gets in.

This is visibly demonstrated in the Japanese art of KINTSUGIwhere broken pottery is mended, but with gold. The intention is not to HIDE the cracks, but to reveal them clearly as a part of the beauty of the object – something to treasure, not discard. The gold binds up the parts that have been separated. It’s flaws increase its value.

It is our flaws that offer opportunities for God to work with us, to repair our brokenness, and to reveal beauty in us. Those cracks in everything are how the light gets in.

What a restoration! God, through the scriptures, is named the Deliverer. Jehovah Nissi in the Hebrew – one of the names for God (especially in Isaiah). Elyashib – the One who restores. Jehovah-Rapha – the God who heals. These name intimate ways that “the cosmic God is intimately, inextricably involved in the lives and futures of human beings.” God offers deliverance, healing, and restoration to heal the people of God.

In Psalm 147, God acts to rebuild Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Babylonians, and gathers up the exiles from their dispersion around the region. Some had been carried in captivity to Babylon where they served their new masters. Some fled to Egypt, Moab, Ammon and Edom. Others remained in the area, eking a living out of the land laid waste. God gathered them up and returned them to their land. Deliverer.

God acted to heal those who were brokenhearted, binding up their wounds. (v. 3) Social compassion is one of the characteristics of YHWH. Concern for the vulnerable. Giving hope to a people who were hopeless. Reminding them that they are beloved and claimed by God. “Once you were no people – but now you are mine. I have claimed you and you are mine.” Healer. Restorer.

And there is the reminder too that what God values is different from what the world values. God helps the poor – but throws the wicked down in the dirt (v.6). God doesn’t value strength – whether of power, like the horses of an army, or of physical strength – the legs of a runner (v. 10). God values the hearts of a faithful people (v.11). This too is a recurring theme in the scriptures, and particularly in the psalms. Contrasting military might and the faithfulness of God occurs frequently, perhaps because Israel and Judah, like us, may think that strength and power lie in military might. But God says that victory doesn’t always go to the biggest and strongest army. (The story of Gideon is a good example.) God of Might – El Shaddai.

God is the Restorer – Deliverer – Healer – and God of Might. God is always seeking to heal and redeem. Pay attention! These healing and restoring attributes of God are only shown when we human beings are vulnerable, broken, and in need of God’s help.

Gritty Praise

Even in the midst of challenging and painful times, there are reasons to praise God. Praise doesn’t magically improve the situation, but worshipping God does carry us through some really hard times. It puts things in perspective. Worship reminds us of God, who is beyond this mess, within this mess, and holding us through this mess. Sometimes our worship speaks a pretty gritty truth – and names God in the middle of that. And that can be healing.

It may be easier to understand the truth of this through a song. Amy Grant’s “Better than a Hallelujah” says it well.

Better than a Hallelujah

Amy Grant

God loves a lullaby In a mothers tears in the dead of night Better than a Hallelujah sometimes. God loves a drunkards cry, The soldiers plea not to let him die Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries God just hears a melody Beautiful the mess we are The honest cries of breaking hearts Are better than a Hallelujah.

The woman holding on for life, The dying man giving up the fight Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes The tears of shame for what's been done, The silence when the words won't come Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries God just hears a melody Beautiful the mess we are The honest cries of breaking hearts Are better than a Hallelujah.

Better than a church bell ringing, Better than a choir singing out, singing out.

We pour out our miseries God just hears a melody Beautiful the mess we are The honest cries of breaking hearts Are better than a Hallelujah.

We pour out our miseries God just hears a melody Beautiful the mess we are The honest cries of breaking hearts Are better than a Hallelujah.

Better than a Hallelujah (Better than a Hallelujah sometimes)

So we praise God in the middle of the mess – even in the middle of messes we have made of our lives, crying out with our authentic broken selves. “We pour out our misery – God just hears a melody. Beautiful the mess we are – the honest cries of breaking hearts – are the gritty praise, the honest words, God honors.

So we praise God for what God has done: stars, clouds, ravens and goats. We praise God for what God has done for us in the past: deliverance, healing, comfort. We need those reminders to hang on to hope in the hard times. “Because God’s sovereignty consists of the power of faithful love rather than sheer force, God’s people will live inevitably by hope and in waiting.”

“This is a simple story…

But not an easy one to tell.

Like a fable, there is sorrow…

And like a fable,

It is full of wonder and happiness….These words begin Roberto Benigni’s award winning movie, “Life is Beautiful.” The story begins in Italy with Guido, a free spirited and joyful Jew. He meets Dora, who is engaged to a bureaucrat with little love or imagination, and wins her heart. They have a son and the rise of the Axis powers means that Guido and Glosue’ are arrested and put on a train to a concentration camp. Dora, who was not a Jew, demands to be taken too. Guido turns everything that happens in a game and saves his son, who is reunited with his mother at the end. Guido gives his life away to protect his son, and marches off with the officer who will execute him with a silly walk to keep his son from panicking. But more than just saving Giosue’s life, he saves his spirit through his gift to find joy and beauty in life, even in the concentration camp. He gives Giosue’ SPIRITUAL RESILIENCE despite the circumstances. That is Gritty worship – finding joy in life even with the ashes of friends and family in the air. Like the psalmists, even “in the darkest and most seemingly hopeless periods of our lives, we can adore the Divine Goodness who holds us up with so much power” and keeps us afloat. “However hard things are, we are never abandoned.”

And even thought it all went wrong,

I’ll stand before the Lord of song,

With nothing on my tongue but Alleluia.

That is Gritty worship – to stand before God in the middle of the mess with “Alleluia.”

It’s strange but true – we are beautiful WITH our flaws and scars. God loves us for our authentic selves, and works to heal and restore us. And that is grounds for praise and thanks. Real, gritty, truth in worshipping the God who loves us just the way we are and works to restore us to wholeness. Who looks at us and says, “Beautiful, Just beautiful.”

1 NIBC, Psalms, 1269 in Volume IV.

2 Interview with Wendy Farley

3 Interview with Wendy Farley.

4 Walter Brueggemann and William H Bellinger, Jr, Psalms, 610.

5 NIBC, Psalms, 1268. For more on faithful love, see Pss 5:7; 25:6-7,10; 33:5,18,22; 103:4,8,11,17. On living in

hope as people of God, see Pss 25:3,5,21; 33:18,22)

Photo by Sebastien Gabriel on Unsplash