Reflections to start the week
Monday, November 24, 2014
Grace and gratitude
The theologian Karl Barth apparently never had an unexpressed thought, as attested by extensive volumes of theological reflection. Who knows? Perhaps he got paid by the word. He was also wonderfully able to cut to the chase, as attested by an encounter in the early 60’s with a group of Chicago seminarians. Mindful of his propensity for writing at length on almost any subject (I wish he was around now to reflect on contemporary issues), these students basically taunted him to sum up his theology in a sentence. Perhaps if they were asking today, the request would be to sum up his theology in a tweet. Could he do it? Dr. Barth indicated he could provide such a summation. It went like this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
In his Dogmatics, he offered a similar simple insight into the faith, a description of our life with God which seems fitting for this week which includes a national holiday promoting gratitude in the attitude. Please note: I love this holiday for many reasons, and I’m so excited to be with our children in a new home. I’m deeply grateful on so many levels. But face it. We observe this holiday in strange ways. We prepare then consume foods we love until we about near explode, thereby inducing a big old nap. We spend a chunk of time enthralled with the most popular liturgy of our culture: football. Many do battle with other consumers in anticipation of Christmas, vigorous competition such that each year the news will report fistfights (and worse) over sales items, all ostensibly in observance of the birth of our Lord, the prince of peace, born in a manger. Go figure.
Given those observances, perhaps we can pause on this Monday, perhaps each day this week, perhaps each day for the rest of our lives, to focus on gratitude, and to use Dr. Barth’s simple vision of the spiritual life. Here it is:
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.
This week, carry this passage with you. Begin by reflecting on a time (or two) in your life when you have experienced grace. Did it come from God? Did it come from someone close to you, God’s instrument of grace? Did you see it in the beauty of creation? If you’re having Thanksgiving Dinner with folks, and looking for a way to avoid arguing about politics (Fox news vs. MSNBC: watch out for flying mashed potatoes), maybe you can start your meal by going around the table, telling about a time when the voice of grace stirred an echo, when lightning flashed. Our youth calls those moments God-sightings. Sharing them can be downright transformative.
And then let gratitude flow from that vision of grace, gratitude that infuses your heart and shapes your behavior. Heaven and earth meeting. Echoes of grace expressed in gratitude, as sure as thunder follows lightning. This past week, I had the privilege of leading a conversation about spiritual growth at the 199th Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina. In that conversation, I asked people to identify things that helped them move forward in their spiritual journeys, and things that got in the way. On that second question, one answer struck me in particular. A woman indicated that her journey was stalled when she forgot to be grateful.
That’s what we aim to avoid this coming Thursday. We take a day off to express our gratitude (even if we do so in idiosyncratic ways). That’s what we aim to do each Sunday when we gather for eucharist, a Greek word for thanksgiving. That liturgy includes in the prayer over the bread and wine a portion that describes the things God has done for us, things for which we are thankful. Liturgists call that section anamnesis, which means literally, not amnesia. Not forgetting. Our expression of gratitude need not wait for a national holiday. It doesn’t need to wait for Sunday. It’s why God made Monday. As William Arthur Ward said: “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?”
– Jay Sidebotham
If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough. -Meister Eckhart
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. -Thomas Merton
When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves–that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience. -N.T. Wright
The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive. -Thích Nhất Hạnh
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.