“But thanks be to God”: A fifth reflection

Today is the day designated to publicly give thank to our Creator for the gracious gifts which he in his divine Providence has lavished on us. And so it is fitting to reflect on the manifold blessings God has poured out over the course of my life: the ways in which “the boundary stones have fallen for me in pleasant places,” the wonderful people he brought into my life, and my preservation from disaster. It is also fitting to consider whether my response to his beneficence has been suitable—with the inevitable conclusion that I have utterly failed to act in appropriate gratitude.

Three years ago, I wrote an extended reflection detailing many of the blessings I felt had been bestowed upon me over the course of my life; this became something of a tradition over the next three years. If I were to begin at the beginning again, my thoughts would take essentially the same form and include essentially the same contents as that first reflection, only far more briefly and sporadically because I wrote it over the course of several days and have come to this year’s more belatedly, so I strongly encourage you to return to it (and, to a lesser extent the subsequent entries), as I have and will again, and join me in thanking and praising God for what he has done throughout my life. Today’s post is, as in the past several years, an addendum, especially of causes for gratitude specific to or new this year.

The last couple of years, I began this with a bit of the Sursum Corda and adapted forms of answers from the Heidelberg Catechism. But today it seems fitting to begin with a “psalm for giving thanks,” as versified for the Scottish Psalter:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, his praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Know that the Lord is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His folk, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise;
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless his Name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God Whom Heaven and earth adore,
From men and from the angel host
Be praise and glory evermore.

To speak in generalities, there is nothing in my life that should not be a subject of gratitude to God; every good thing is a gift from his hand, and every problem or evil is permitted according to his good purpose and restrained by his mercy.

But generalities do not suffice; if I said I was grateful in general but could name no specifics, that would be a sign that I was, at best, mistaken. So while I don’t want to repeat myself too much, and, as has become usual, the time I left myself to write this is short, I will expand on individual blessings for which I am grateful.

I am grateful for good health. While I know that I am not in perfectly good health, when what is in absolute terms a “trifling cold” is the most debilitating medical incident of the year, that shows that my health could be far worse. My health is far better than I deserve, given how badly I’ve neglected basic maintenance over the years.

I am grateful for a wealth of books. I personally own too many (much as it pains me to say that that’s even possible, but I mean more than I have space to store or time to read enough to sort through. My family owns far more (though the ratio of books to shelf space is more reasonable), there is a public library within walking distance, bookstores large and small in nearby cities, and innumerably more available for purchase online, most for such a pittance that the shipping costs more. And that’s just the physical books; a computer stores and makes available a tremendously vast library. Not that all of this information is valuable or even true, but it is unimaginable wealth.

I am grateful for fellowship with friends, old and new, in person and virtually, for fellowship, conversation, and correspondence, and for online communities that make it possible to make friends who exemplify Lewis’s definition. And I am grateful for the “sharpening” of my faith and my abilities, and for opportunities to make myself useful in the same way to others.

While I am not fond of winter, I am grateful for it. The crisp blue skies and white snow show God’s glory in a different way than the rest of creation, it balances the year, so that we don’t have to sit through the worst heat of summer all the time, and the hard frosts preserve us from pests that would otherwise overrun us. And I am grateful for the heat and shelter God has provided to protect us from the ravages of winter.

I am grateful for the examples of “those who have gone before,” whose lives have shown God’s power and glory in the world, and who have walked the path laid out for us who now live today.

I am grateful for music: hymns (such as those I’ve been writing about each month), folk tunes (including those I get to dance to most weeks), the rich heritage of the Western classical tradition, and even some “popular music” of the past century or so. In particular, I’m grateful for the chance I have each December, living in the Ann Arbor area, to join a group of mostly-amateur musicians for an unrehearsed reading of Handel’s Messiah.

I am grateful for preservation from untold dangers, and for manifold blessings I have not even noticed—and for the preservation of my mind to notice these few, scattered items, and others I’ve thought of during the year but since forgotten, and give thanks to the One whose benevolence has provided them. May I be more mindful, and may I more suitably respond out of the gratitude that is his due.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who gives us bread from the earth, and who gives us the fruit of the vine. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this moment.

And, readers: What are you thankful for?

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