Sunday, November 18, 2012

Songs About Rainbows

“…Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In one of the most familiar opening film segments, Kermit the frog is perched atop a log, banjo on knee, singing “Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side.”  Lost beneath the strangeness of a singing frog playing banjo is the irony of Kermit’s lyrical subject.

For a frog, a rainbow is pretty ho hum; bland and uninspiring – certainly not worth serenading.   The rainbow a frog sees is not the colorful spectacle I am familiar with.  Why, indeed, are there so many songs about something so blah.  Kermit’s curiosity is justifiable.

You see, the palette of my vision is dictated by three color receptors, called cones.  These three cones are sensitive to light of different wavelengths, roughly corresponding to red (long wavelengths), blue (short wavelengths), and green (medium wavelengths).  Stimulating various combinations of these cones allows me to see the array of colors I am familiar with, and a rainbow that transitions from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to violet (remembered with the familiar acronym ROYGBIV).

Frogs only have two cones – the red and green, restricting them to a more narrow color spectrum.  Kermit’s rainbow is pared to ROYG.  BIV has been lopped off.  With limited color sensitivity, frogs are better off relying on other sensors.  Instead of color cues, they depend almost exclusively on motion.  They will starve surrounded by food that is still.  And they will strike at anything that mimics the movement of a worm or bug. Kermit would more naturally sing about turbulent motion, than about spectacular color (as if a singing frog is in any way natural).

But for all the color that I see, human sight is not the most complex.  My three color receptors are dwarfed by the mantis shrimp, with its 16 color receptors.  These cones allow the shrimp to see color above and below the band visible to me, into infrared and ultraviolet.  And even within the band visible to me, the shrimp can see nuances of shade that are indiscriminate to my eye.  The shrimp can see colors that I have no name for and no conception of. 

The shrimp has the Crayola 150-count telescoping crayon tower, the deluxe artist’s kit.  I have the typical eight count schoolroom set, all the colors needed for elementary workbook pages.  Kermit has the two pack set you get at the restaurant to color the kids placemat.  A dull outcome is inevitable, no matter how hard Kermit works on his coloring book.

This is the framework for my thoughts on thanksgiving this year.  Gratitude is a matter of how we see things.  We can look at the same rainbow and see it quite differently.  The rainbow stays the same, the perception of it changes.  Gratitude is less about increased good fortune and more about increased awareness of existing good fortune.

Some will see thanksgiving as a narrow band of color, exhausted in a brief word of prayer before the turkey is passed and the stuffing is devoured.  Broad generalities of gratefulness for family, freedom, and financial provision may be all that constitutes blessing in their eye.  Thanksgiving is elicited when the calendar demands it or when the circumstance is reasonably intense - a narrowly avoided danger, a fortuitous prosperity, a satisfied longing.  Thanksgiving is rare, for the eye is not perceptive enough to employ it much.

Some will see gratitude as a broader color band, filling in some of the shades and expanding the palette.  This is more concrete - blessings in the particulars.  Not just thanking God for food.  Thanking him for fresh spinach in my fridge, the last of the local, organic greens we have enjoyed for the past four months.  And a freezer full of soups made from the summer bounty that will carry us through the cold winter months - Potato leek, zoupa Toscana, white bean and kale, and vegetable beef.

This rainbow of gratitude may even include shades of blue and purple; darker colors lacking the light cheeriness of a yellow or orange.  These are things not as obvious in their blessing.  Gratitude in deprivation as well as plenty.  Even in scarcity, God is good. 

But a precious few will see a world exploding with color on the broadest spectrum.  Every moment, a gift from God; every experience, a splash of vibrant color, infinitely and gloriously varied.  This is gratitude that infuses all of life, filling the cracks and crevices of apparent dullness with the awareness of a rainbow that is wider and brighter than the natural eye can see.  Life is a steady stream of gifts from a loving God.  Even the most mundane slivers are seen in rich hues of beauty, and wonder, and undeserved goodness.  To see the world as a mantis shrimp is to see blessing detailed, precise, and inexhaustible.

 When Paul instructs us to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20) he is inviting us to see blessing in richer colors on a wider spectrum.  The words “always” (temporal) and “everything” (topical) invite us to see shades that are often overlooked. We may be color blind to these tints until God opens our eyes to them, helping us to find beautiful color in the most boring elements of life and to be grateful even in hardship. 

A mantis shrimp never wonders why there are so many songs about rainbow.  He wonders why there aren’t more (or so I conjecture).  The brilliance I see in that arc in the sky is dwarfed by what the shrimp sees.  This thanksgiving I’m asking God to help me see a rainbow like a mantis shrimp.  I’d rather see like a shrimp than sing like a frog, even if you throw in the banjo playing.

Blog News: I reworked my posts from Thanksgiving last year and they ended up as an article in the current edition of Bible Advocate.  It's the current featured article on their website.  One more opportunity to prepare your heart (or, better, increase your color spectrum) for Thanksgiving.

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