A picture of our torn up praise

Awhile back, I came across a song by the band Phosphorescent called “A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise” and it has intrigued me ever since — not the song, just the title.

Doesn’t our praise often feel torn up? It’s as if we’re reaching for something (Someone!) and never quite getting there because of something about ourselves or the people we’re with or the setting or some other thing that isn’t right. But we just end up tearing it up or at least getting it smudged and tattered.

It amazes me that God is interested at all. That he keeps on showing up for it. That he actually smiles at it. There is more grace in the receiver than generosity in the givers.

It reminds me of a poem by Billy Collins called “The Lanyard.” I include it below, because it is “a picture of our torn up praise” that shows why God might not only accept, but cherish, our tattered and smudged prayers and songs.

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.