Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanks! No, really!

       "What man is a man who does not make the world better?"  So Balian of Ibelin translates an inscription carved in one of the roof beams of his smithy towards the beginning of the film "Kingdom of Heaven".*  He refers to the sentiment later in the movie when he is congratulated for turning a very dry parcel of land into a productive estate.  He says something to the effect: "It is my land.  How can I not make it better?" In neither case was a desire for change absent.  But Balian wasn't searching for a better blacksmith's shop, or for a different parcel of land.  In both cases, the message seemed to be "Take what you have and make it better."
        How different that is from the messages with which we are bombarded constantly -- and especially at this time of the year:  "You don't have enough!  You need more, especially OUR product!  Then you'll be the top dog!  And you'll have six-pack abs!"  Or, as I've seen it put on Facebook:  "Black Friday is the day we go out and buy more stuff -- the day after we've stopped to give thanks for all that we have!"
        And so I wonder if we really are giving thanks for all we have?  Or are we going through the "Thanksgiving grace" motions as a "necessary" precursor to gorging ourselves silly?  If I spend any time thinking back on all of the pre-Thanksgiving-dinner prayers I've heard (or given), they fall into some predictable patterns:  "Thanks for the food.  Thanks for the hands that prepared it.  Thanks for the family and friends around the table."  And there may be some acknowledgement that there are folks out there whose table may NOT be defined as a "groaning board" because it is pretty meagerly furnished.  But, mostly I recall some sort of acknowledgement of how MUCH stuff I really have (or have to look forward to).
        The medieval German mystic, Meister Eckhart, reportedly wrote:  "If the only prayer you say in your life is 'thank you,' that would suffice."  If we take Eckhart seriously, it seems to me, we need to go pretty deep in our thanksgiving.  Certainly we are rightfully thankful for friends/family and food.  Most of us -- but not all, however, have eyes with which to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets, not to mention the beautifully set table.  But do we just give thanks for the sunrise, or, additionally, the eyes that see it?  Are we thankful for the good grade (it IS the end of the quarter after all), or for the clear mind that could analyze the problem, for the teachers who provided the tools, for the parents who encouraged the exploration?  The interconnections and intersections are so complex that they are almost overwhelming, almost beyond consideration. That shouldn't, however, excuse us from recognizing them and appreciating their depth and beauty but, rather, almost blithely skipping to the outcome.
        Drawing a connection between Eckhart and his medieval colleague Balian, are we as set on giving thanks for what we have and then seeking ways to make that better? As a cyclist, I'm always amused by those who more set on spending a LOT of money to reduce the weight of their bicycle by a few ounces than they are to reduce their spending on food (which, of course, would reduce the road weight of them and their bikes!).  Are we more prone to think "out with the old, in with the new", or "I'm glad for what I have, but more is better"?  What if saying "Thanks, I'll work with the abundance I have right now" was sufficient?

Chaplain Gary

Nemo vir est qui mundum non red dat meliorem.

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