As many times as I’ve heard and sung Morning Has Broken, by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, I’ve always been a little unsure about the last line of the final verse — “Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s recreation of the new day.” I wonder what it’s really saying.
Is it re-creation as in creating again, creating anew? That would make the most sense in the context of the entire song.
But the way Cat pronounces it in recordings, and the way it looks on paper, seems more like recreation with a soft “e,” a word we might use to describe fun, play, and leisure activities. As in: recreational use, or “Parks & Recreation.”
At first glance, those seem pretty different.
To re-create something like a new day — the entire world reborn — that sounds like a heavy lift. Like something that’s going to take powerful intentions, a ton of organization, an impeccable attention to detail, and tremendous coordinated effort. It makes me itch to get out the spreadsheets and org charts, and start cross-referencing my to-do lists. Even if we’re singing about it as the miraculous daily undertaking of a Divine Ever-Loving Everything, there’s no denying the fact that it’s a lot. And if we consider ourselves as parts of this Divine Ever-Loving Everything, ourselves as essential participants in the re-creation of each new day — well, that begs all sorts of questions about responsibility and accountability for what’s ours to do, how we’re supposed to do it, what’s the deadline, who’s in charge… Sounds like work.
If it’s rec, though… recreational — that would sure seem to lighten things up. Then the lyric might resonate more like: Praise with elation, praise every morning, our sheer enjoyment of the new day. Recreation as amusement, relaxation, and pleasure. Not so much dutiful professionalism. Neither clock-punching nor laborious. Not even laden with sober and serious purpose. Just for fun.
As a word nerd, I almost can’t believe I’ve never looked into this before. I thought there might turn out to be an etymological trick in there somewhere. But actually, no. Recreation as “playtime” and recreation as “making new” come from exactly the same place and since at least 1400 have denoted precisely the same thing.
It’s all meant to be a thing of joy. Joy is creative and re-creative, begetting again and again our return to completeness.
Recreational isn’t the opposite of purposeful, meaningful, medical, or professional. To enjoy recreational activities — including rest and relaxation, amusement and entertainment, pleasure and freedom — is to bring ourselves, our lives, and the world back into Wholeness. It’s how we LET THERE BE LIGHT again.
Sure, sometimes there’s work involved. And planning and coordination and yada yada yada. Often, we face serious issues and our re-creations had best include problem-solving, ingenuity, and exercising experience and wisdom. But unless we’re actually trying to make more work for ourselves by creating new days of rat races and drudgery, then we need to remember to prioritize our joy in the creative (recreative) process.
We could make more of that same old same old without even thinking about it or trying. If we’re going to recreate then let’s do it on purpose and make it better, baby!
There was a lovely opinion essay by David Von Drehle in the Washington Post this week: “We’ll Never Solve Our Many Crises Without This One Ingredient.”
Von Drehle starts out with an appreciative description of a plump cardinal at the feeder outside his window. As he watches, he is aware that climate change is decimating North American bird populations. He notes the dissonance between his delight in this particular bird and his concern for birds in general, the challenge of holding both feelings at once.
We experience the same clash when we contemplate any of our big problems — they are problems because we long for an unadulterated experience of the thing that the problem appears to be in the way of. Environmental problems, violence problems, injustice problems — the problem is with what they are blocking or violating — Natural Beauty and Balance, Peace and Harmony, Equality and Togetherness. It’s a tricky thing because while we do want (and sometimes need) to be informed of our problems, if we place too much attention on the problem this can in fact become part of the blockage. Overwhelmed by social-international-global problems too big for any individual to solve, sometimes all we can see is the gloom. It becomes hard to simply appreciate the bird anymore.
The missing ingredient that Von Drehle identifies is Joy. Delight. Emphasizing, valuing, and prioritizing joie de vivre. He writes: “One cannot usefully address a threat to birds if they do not delight in individual birds. One cannot meaningfully answer the climate crisis if they lack excitement about the human capacity for invention and reinvention. One cannot make progress toward equality and inclusion if they don’t see and love the potential of humankind — enemies included — and one cannot build the future if one fears the future.”
One cannot re-create a new day without embodying recreational delight and freedom in it. Why would we even want to, otherwise?
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, April 9, 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. Happy Passover, Happy Easter! XO, Drew
©2023 Drew Groves