Monday, November 12, 2012

Faith Works 11-17

Faith Works 11-17-12

Jeff Gill


Believing in thankfulness



Thankfulness begins with a sense of "well, things could be worse."


In almost any bad situation there's an element that quickly shows itself to be not-so-bad vs. the negative situation as a whole. The car could have broken down farther away, or on a hill; the tumor is operable, or at least treatable.


So you're thankful, even in the middle of a tough situation.


When times are good, as things are working out, we can always see close at hand the ways that it could have gone the other way. I might not have seen the job posting when I did, the other fellow didn't have to stop and help, we almost fought over it before everyone in the room seemed to take a breath together, then someone laughed.


And you're thankful.


There are always those circumstances where thankfulness seems not only implausible, but irrational. The death of a child, the loss of a close friend, a diagnosis that is hopeless. The breaks all went against you, and the worst that you fear is what, in fact, has happened.


So often I see people in those situations still say how glad they are for the time they had, that we all got to say goodbye, and there are smiles even through a steady rain of tears.


It's not a "yes, but…" as much as a "yes, and…I am thankful."


There are people who manage to find the cloud in every silver lining, and the fly in each bowl of soup. Thankfulness does not appear to be a genetic or cultural essential in the human creature, it is a learned response that needs cultivating or it can disappear under a drip-drip-drip of "I never get a break," and "good things always happen to someone else," let alone "everyone is against me."


You might argue that folks in the last category are simply hard-headed realists, who approach the world and life with the skepticism and paranoia it deserves. The cosmos is governed by entropy, the ecosystem is eat or be eaten, and our economy is devil take the hindmost. Look out! And no matter how carefully you look out, you'll be someone's lunch someday, so gather what pleasures you may before the tiger strikes.


Not so thankful (except maybe the tiger).


My own sense is that the a-thankful, ag-not-grateful, anti-hope crowd is a small one. The rest of us find ourselves having to work at thankfulness more at some times than others, but the majority view is that thankful living and thinking is rational, and healthier, and ultimately the more joyful way to live. And we give Mr. Btfsplk a wide berth (that's for all the "Pogo" fans out there, the fellow who walked around with a black cloud over his head all the time).


There's still the challenge from atheist, agnostic, anti-religious adherents who ask "Why do you have to drag your imaginary sky friend into all this? Good things happen, bad stuff hits you, but you can't control it, and most of you God-botherers admit that you can't pray your way to exactly what you want, or even precisely what you need, right when it ought to happen."


A mild "well, we don't always know what's best" usually does not suffice to respond to those complaints. So why is thankfulness usually bound up with a belief in God, a faith in life-beyond-life, a sense of relationship to higher powers? Can't we just see thankfulness as a sort of thinkfulness, a way to train the mind and heart to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?


In the end, there's just too much about what we're thinking about when we think about thankful that reaches out beyond ourselves. We are thankful because we know in the end we don't even have to be, let alone be happy. If we think there is a reason we're here at all, and a purpose to which we're connected beyond ourselves, it so quickly makes us reassess our likes, our dislikes, our joys, and even our sorrows.


Thankfulness is the prayer I pray when I don't know what else to say to God, to the Cosmos, to my Creator. And it always starts me down a path that leads to peace. May this week take you in that direction, as well.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he will preach for the Newark community Thanksgiving service tomorrow night at 7:00 pm in Trinity Episcopal Church. Tell him what you're thankful for at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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