This month IVP has released a new, revised version of my writings with Dr. Paul Brand, Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image. Gratitude was the one quality that most impressed me about Paul Brand. For him, the universe was God’s own work of art, and the human body God’s masterpiece. He kept making notes on scattered computer files, calling them “A Litany of Thanksgiving.” Dr. Brand never finished his litanies, but here are a few of his final musings on the human body he knew so well. They sum up the spirit of a man who accepted the world as a marvelous gift, to which the proper response is gratitude.
I thank you, Lord, for my heart.
Moment by moment and day after day my heart has pumped blood to every limb and organ of my body, supplying the nutrients that give life and energy. It has needed no maintenance or spare parts, no special fuel or lubrication. It has surged with power when I needed help for strong exertion, and has quietly sustained me during sleep.
Grant me, O God, the grace of self-control. I must not eat so much that I accumulate unnecessary fat, increasing the work required of my heart. Help me avoid the seduction of rich foods that narrow my arteries. Neither let me neglect to maintain my strength, by lazily relying on cars and machines when I could as readily use my legs and arms.
Save me, Lord, from ambition that gives high place to wealth and power and prestige, in the process adding stress to my waking hours and robbing me of restful sleep at night. Control me with your Spirit who teaches me to forgive when anger builds up, to seek forgiveness when I’m oppressed by guilt, and who grows in me the fruit of love and peace. Then shall my heart beat with the rhythm of contentment, and my whole body will know harmony and quiet joy.
When in the fullness of time the beat of my heart must falter and fail, give me this grace, dear Lord: that my response shall not be petulance that it does not last forever, but gratitude that it has served me long and well.
I thank you, Lord, for the gift of sight.
Not content that I should see light and shade, you have blessed me with the ecstasy of color, with millions of cells at the back of my eye, each calibrated to its own wavelength of color. You designed living lenses, crystal-clear, flexible, and guided by tiny muscles that allow instant and precise focusing. I praise you for tears that cleanse, and for eyelids poised to blink down protection in a split-second reflex.
Lord God, I marvel that, though light never enters my brain, thousands of the finest nerves convey images of reality into my mind, which stores them away for future retrieval. I carry around a memory bank of friends and children and grandchildren; I close my eyes and my mind re-creates the images those nerves once ushered in.
I know many people who can no longer see. If I live beyond the life span of the cells in me that sense the light, or if cataracts cloud the shining globe that gives me sight, I too shall live in shadows and depend on the eyes of those who see. Help me, dear Lord, to use these days of sight in a way that honors the gift of light. Help me to gaze at each sunset as if it were my last, to look upon scenes and friends with an artist’s eye, compiling a memory bank of beauty and love. If someday I lose your gift of sight, these same images may return and beautify my inner life when all outside falls dark.
And while I see, may my guiding hand be quick to help the one who falters because his world is dark, to share with others the benefits of the gift of sight.
I thank you, Lord, for the sense of hearing.
Deep in the dense bone of the base of my skull, you have placed rows of tiny hairs that bend to the movement of the fluid that bathes them. Too fragile to be exposed to the hurly-burly of the outside world, they feel vibrations filtered through canals and mediated by tiny guardian instruments of bone.
Music and voices come to me without effort, awakening without my conscious thought memories of sounds and of speech. I hear an echo of a concert from long ago, or recollect a person long forgotten whose face suddenly springs to mind, roused by a tone of voice or a lilt of laughter that calls up a remembrance. The design that makes such wonder come to life lies beyond the fathoming of science, but God forbid that I should revel in the ecstasy of music and the joy of sound without giving thanks to you, my Lord.
A capacity to hear sufficient to warn me of danger and protect my life is all I might have asked, but I have joy far beyond that need. For the sound of rushing water, singing birds, and the quiet whisper of a friend, I thank you now. Grant me the wisdom to guard this gift well and to be content with sound enough to hear and yet not to blast my eardrums and shatter the finest hairs with sound amplified beyond nature. Teach me to love the silence of open spaces, the distant cry of the loon, and the soft sounds of falling night that lull me to sleep, knowing that my hearing never sleeps but remains alert to awaken me to danger or to the chorus of the dawning day.
You have given, too, an extra gift beyond that of my sense of hearing: the ability to listen. My mind can shut out noise and talk, and even calls for help, that I do not want to hear. Grant, oh Lord, that I may tune my hearing mind to detect that human voice that needs a listening ear.
To listen is my gift to give. To a soul who has lost hope, whose way ahead is dark, whose sense of worth has fallen and is too weak to rise, I have a way to bring back hope. I can let them know that someone cares. The simple statement of their fear may be all they need, because now it has been shared, and they are not alone. Help me, Lord God, to listen to your lonely child and so express my thanks to you for ears to hear.
― Dr. Paul Brand
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