Summary: Looking for Pennies (story from Annie Dillard) is important because: 1. The created world is a window into the heart of God. 2. The created world provides opportunities to praise the goodness of God. 3. The created world is a source of joy for thankful
Annie Dillard, in her wonderful Pulitzer Prize winning book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, tells a story about pennies. It was in her chapter entitled “Seeing” that I read her wonderful childhood story. I will let her tell it in her own words: “When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always ‘hid’ the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.”
She goes on to say, “It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a life-time of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.”
I want us to think about pennies today. I want us to think about seeing things that have been “cast broadside from a generous hand” — these “free gifts from the universe.” So much has been hidden from us only because we failed to follow the arrows. God has hidden wonderful surprises everywhere, but you have to search and follow the arrows. You have to want to see. The gifts of God are only for those who can recognize their value. “What you see is what you get,” as Annie says. You have to have the eyes of a child who still sees with wonder. Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure’” (Matthew 11:25-26).
Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it so beautifully when she wrote:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush aflame with God.
But only those who see take off their shoes:
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
What all of this is saying is, first of all, that looking for pennies is important because: The created world is a window into the heart of God. If you want to know what God is like, look for the arrows. There are things all around us which are pointing to the deep and wonderful personality of our glorious God. His mysteries are great, but he is fond of revealing them to those who want to see. In the smallest things there are profound wonders which could occupy our minds for decades: how a tree draws life from the ground in order to grow and create leaves which drink sunshine and give the tree its life; how a flower has color, texture and fragrance; how a child develops in a mother’s womb — complete with fingers, heart and circulatory system, and a intricate and complex brain that no computer could begin to match. But we have things like the new Easton Mall which make things like rocks and leaves seem insignificant, and yet, a single leaf is more complex than all the malls of Columbus put together. We can build a mall, but we cannot create a single leaf — or even one cell of a leaf.