Gratitude

Oh, hello, blog land!  It’s only been, like…TWO AND A HALF MONTHS.

You know what’s hard?  Ministry.  Ministry is hard.  And blogging about the things you’re learning about and through ministry is hard, because those learning things are connected to actual real people, and actual real people, understandably, can find it somewhat weird when their pastor blogs about them.  Totally legit, actual real people.  I respect that.

My alternate plans include developing a social life I can write about instead, or reflecting more generally about the really fabulously fascinating intersections between life and theology.  The first is a steadily proceeding work-in-progress.  The second is a nightmarish undertaking in the fall of an election year.

So maybe it’s not such a coincidence that this blog comes to you from NEW HAVEN, where I’m enjoying some continuing education back at Yale Divinity School, where no actual real people who I serve as pastor could be harmed in the writing of this blog post.

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Tom Troeger and his bowtie.

Guys.  New Haven.  I have missed it.  Not only is there the food (OMG THE FOOD–Apizza!  Miya’s Sushi! Thai Taste!  Nica’s Market!) and the view from East Rock precipice (OMG THE VIEW) and oh yeah, autumn in New ENGLAND (OMG THE COLORS), but there are also lectures from some amazing people, including (OMG!) Tom Troeger, one of my very favorite preaching people.  He can talk to me about preaching anytime.  That man.  His thoughts.  He speaks, and the world becomes a more beautiful place.

This year Tom is giving the Beecher lectures, a yearly event at Yale Div School where really smart wise preachers come and talk about preaching.  Tom’s theme has been about the purpose of preaching–where is a sermon meant to lead?  Tom has advanced the theory that it ought to lead to prayer–a la George Herbert:

Resort to sermons, but to prayers most:
Praying’s the end of preaching.

(George Herbert, “The Church Porch,” The Temple)

And of course, there are lots of kinds of prayer–adoration, intercession, lament, thanksgiving, to name a few.

Today I was particularly caught by the words of Tom’s reflections on thanksgiving.

He began by describing a phenomenon that he had noticed across a broad cross-section of churches.  The phenomenon paid no attention to divisions of denomination or geography, but was found everywhere, and it went like this:

In the section of the service when the congregation was asked to lift up joys and concerns, or things to pray for and things to give thanks for, people had no problem at all naming things and/or people that stood in need of prayer.  But when the time to give thanks came?

Crickets.

And then, perhaps, a hesitant voice might say, “Thank you for this lovely weather.”

As someone who’s given her own fair share of public thanks for both sunshine and rain during the prayers of intercession (POSSIBLY JUST LAST WEEK), I can testify that this is some accurate reporting.

But Tom Troeger went on to point out the options for thanksgiving aren’t scarce—rather, they are overwhelming.  “We did nothing to bring ourselves into being,” he reminded those gathered in the room.  “Every breath we breathe is borrowed air.”

Every breath we breathe is borrowed air.

We live in a culture that promotes self-sufficiency as a crucial virtue, but it is precisely that “virtue” that undermines our sense of gratitude.  When we believe that we alone are responsible for our success, our joys, our happiness, then we forget the truth that lies at the very heart of what and who we are: we are created. Everything we have and see has been given to us by God as pure gift.  Every breath we breathe is borrowed air.

Guys.  Guys…isn’t that amazing?

Imagine going through life with that at the forefront of your mind: with every breath, every inhale and exhale, realizing anew that each molecule of oxygen, each expansion and compression of breath, is a gift.  Imagine what gratitude, what unceasing praise, that sort of awareness, we’d walk in, every step.

Tom at this point gave us another line from Herbert.  Context: Herbert pleads with God to give him as more thankful heart:

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

(George Herbert, “Grateful,” The Temple)

And then Tom had us find our own pulses, yup, the entire room of us, and when we found it, to say each time we felt it jump, “Thank you, God.”

Thank you, God.  Thank you, God.  Thank you, God.

A whole room of people.

Thank you, God.

I know myself well enough to know that I am not always, or even often, capable of walking with the sort of mindfulness that this constant gratitude requires.  But today, I am filled with thankfulness that I got a glimpse of it, in a room full of a hundred people, and beating hearts, and borrowed breaths creating a single susurration, such as I imagine might fill the streets of New Jerusalem:

Thank you, God.  Thank you, God.  Thank you, God.

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You can actually watch Tom’s lectures on the YDS website.

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