My friend Sandy sent me a “Thanksgiving prayer” over e-mail this week from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, Arthur Bennett, ed. Thanks Sandy! I really enjoyed taking some time to respond to it and put some of the ideas in my own words. I hope you indeed feel thankful as I do today!
I thank You for the soul You have created in me,
for designing it and making it complete with Yourself,
though it is rooted in dry soil;
I thank You for the body You have given me,
for giving it life and strength,
for providing the senses to enjoy delights,
for giving eyes to see You in this world,
for giving ears to hear Your shepherd voice,
for hands that can fulfill their calling,
for arms that can embrace others,
for a mind that can comprehend truth,
for a heart that can feel sorrow and joy,
for legs that can follow You closely.
I thank You for being active in my everyday life,
and for everything that You are to us.
Increase my thankfulness and love, O my God, through time and eternity.
Recently a few of us had a nice conversation based on a chapter from Tuesdays with Morrie. The chapter we read and discussed centered on the role, power and enticement of money in our present day cultures. As we wandered through the ideas of this chapter, a central question emerged: how do we live in such a way that we are not consumed by our wants and desires? I was inspired by the thoughts that arose.
The simple effort to distinguish between wants and needs is a life revolutionizing activity. There are bigger things to live for than my own wants and my own desires. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily advocating a monastic lifestyle.) Training my soul to perceive the needs, value and interests of others can help break the hold my own wants have on me. The clearer I see others and the world, the smaller my problems become. We must train our souls to attend to others.
One of these unviersity students communicated a sense of frustration, “we work so hard just to ready ourselves to participate in this consuming society….to be consumers.” Is this what it is all about? Are we simple consuming creatures? Or are we designed for more?
But what we are looking for is a deep fundamental shift in our being, an essential change in our orientation from self to others. We are talking about breaking out of the “self” prison. Can this redirection of the heart be developed through discipline? Perhaps to an extent. Paraphrasing what another friend said, “we can’t make these kinds of profound changes without some kind of an awakening of the heart, mind and soul.”
I continue to pray for the families who lost loved ones last Monday. It has been exactly one week since I discovered the news on CNN, and my mind and heart have been buzzing with a multitude of thoughts and emotions. As a Hokie, I was deeply moved by the convocation and the community/team spirit that emerged. I got chills as I watched and listened, realizing the power of community to heal.
But even in the midst of this amazing display of community, I recognize that there is something much deeper that we need in order to walk through grief. We need hope.
I received an interesting article from my friend Sandy today. Thanks Sandy! This was written by John Chrysostom in AD392 and called “Christmas Homily.”
“What more shall I say of this mystery? I see a carpenter and a manger, an infant and swaddling clothes, a virgin giving birth without the necessaries of life, nothing but poverty and complete destitution. Have you ever seen wealth in such great penury? How could he who was rich have become, for our sake, so poor that he had neither bed nor bedding but was laid in a manger? O immeasurable wealth concealed in poverty! He lies in a manger, yet he rocks the whole world. He is bound with swaddling bands, yet he breaks the bonds of sin. Before he could speak he taught the wise men and converted them.”
Sunday December 3rd marks the beginning of the Advent season. I have been reminded in a number of ways that this season is essentially about hope. J.R. Woodward put some great words to this on his blog; “Hope is a wish for life to be better than it is, the imagination to look beyond the bad to the good that can be, and the faith to believe that the good you imagine and wish for is actually possible.” This is what Jesus is about, bringing justice, life, and hope. Advent is a season of hoping in the one who will eventually make things right.
“Stories need time (and so do we).”
“Stories cannot happen in an instant. They need room–temporal, psychological, metaphysical–to unfold. Stories relate action “over time.” Because stories happen over time, there is the chance for change, on the part both of characters and of readers. This links stories to hope. Things can be different than they presently are or seem doomed to become. And we, if we enter into the story and allow it to make its appeal, can be changed too. And sometimes we wil be changed by the story of a character who refused to change.”
“The power of an imagined end, and it literally can only be imagined, lies in its ability to influence present choices. Most characters, in life and in fiction, have some notion, however hazy or unarticulated, of what would constitute a successful life for them. They have an idea of how they would like to “end up.” That idea, that imagined end, can be as powerful as anything in the given of beginnings in determining the direction of our lives.”
-Daniel Taylor, professor of Literature and Writing at Bethel College, “In Praise of Stories”
Picture ‘endless’ originally uploaded by antimethod on flickr
“Hope empties our hands in order that we may work with them.”
I’ve been thinking about the issue of hope lately. There are many ways to think about it, but I have particularly enjoyed some of Thomas Merton’s thoughts on the topic of hope, in this world, in society, in family, through struggle, through joy, with friends, with myself, with God. Here’s some of his thoughts related to hope:
“When we do not desire the things of this world for their own sake, we begin to see them as they are.”
“Supernatural hope is the virtue that strips us of all things in order to give us possession of all things.”
“Therefore, to live in hope is to live in poverty having nothing. And yet, if we abandon ourselves to economy of Divine Providence, we have everything we hope for.”
“Hope deprives us of everything that is not God, in order that all things may serve their true purpose as means to bring us to God.”
“Hope empties our hands in order that we may work with them.”
“We can either love God because we hope for something from Him, or we can hope in Him knowing that He loves us. Sometimes we begin with the first kind of hope and grow into the second.”
“Those who abandon everything in order to seek God know well that He is the God of the poor.”
“Peace lies in the acceptance of truth.” -Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child