Thursday, August 16, 2012

In Everything, Give Thanks

Early evening sunbeams pouring through the clouds, landing on the lush green tree tops and full corn fields. It's a scene I've seen a thousand times through the car window, a photo I've taken at least a dozen times. Why does it still take my breath away? Why does it not yet seem "generic," as one person called it? I can only call it grace. I can only attribute it to the Lord forming my eyes and heart over time to see the uniqueness of that particular view. He knew before I was formed that I would be a person benefitted by appreciating such scenes. He knew I would need to be built up by glimpses of beauty on ordinary days.

Last week I began reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and this week I became a copycat. Immediately moved by the author's dawning realization of the value of giving thanks, day in and day out, I chose to take the dare she laid out on the pages. I am writing down in a small notebook the moments that produce thanksgiving. What I quickly understood is that I tend to reserve my offerings of thanks to the times when I come to pray - on the occasional mornings when I take a few minutes to pray and read Scripture, in the evenings as I lay in bed at the close of another day, and especially at Mass, my knees on the kneeler, my forehead resting on my folded fingers. The challenge I am taking up is to give thanks all day long... to maintain a riveted awareness of all there is to be thankful for in my life.

For the first time ever I feel like maybe what St. Paul describes could actually be possible: "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)," I've been able to explain all I want what those verses mean but I can't claim to have had success at living them. Setting my standard at "pray daily," I measure myself in a lesser manner. But as St. Francis de Sales pointed out, "You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves." And so, we learn to pray without ceasing by praying without ceasing. We learn to give thanks in everything by giving thanks in everything.

If God allows me to see/hear/touch/encounter something beautiful, something meaningful, something joy-giving, something that makes me smile or laugh or sigh happily, then He has given me reason to give thanks. If in an experience of difficulty or negativity, He keeps my perspective in check, or causes me to exercise compassion, understanding, or patience, then He has given me reason to give thanks. Perhaps eventually I'll be able to see that God never isn't allowing those things to happen, only I didn't always recognize or accept them.

Ribbons on gifts
Dark red raspberries bobbing in a carafe of cotton candy pink lemonade
The softness of warm kisses
Cold orange juice
Waves from the neighbors as I leave for work
The scratch of pen on paper
Baby pictures on coworkers' desks
Morning thunder
Patience in traffic

Thankfulness gives rise to joy. Do we not all crave a greater well of joy in our lives?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Unexamined Life

Most have heard that age old Socrates quote, "An unexamined life is not worth living." For many months now I have lived that unexamined life. Caught up in the whirlwind of discovering love and now planning a wedding, I inadvertently slipped into a new mode of operation. The reflection and contemplation that characterized my previous days was discarded in a subconcious assurance that I'd reached what I'd been aiming for with all that internal effort. It felt as though now I was in the era of action, rather than thought. That I'd built up toward all this and now I could simply do it. Reflection seemed the proper accompaniment to waiting. I was done waiting. Sadly, I now realize I was also done reflecting. It has produced havoc, this forsaking of examination. Damage. Each struggle I'm facing right now - in my heart with God, in my relationship with my fiance, in so much more - no matter which path of excuses I take it inevitably rounds a bend to reach this truth.

So what now? The contemplative version of myself seems but a distant acquaintance, one that cannot be brought back to intimacy in a mere moment. Yet I can take a step toward her. Right now. And in the next hour. And in the next morning. And in the next night. That first step to regain her presence took me to the Scriptures, thankfully.

I found myself in 1 Corinthians 13. Talk about age old statements, right? Love is patient and kind... not jealous or rude or arrogant or insisting on its own way. Hits me in the gut as I recall it again. St. Paul was naming off what I'd become in certain aspects of my love relationships! A point by point list of how I'd chosen to be in my words, actions and thoughts.

Then, by the Holy Spirit's help, I stumbled upon this devotional blog post: That Holy Spirit, He knows what He's doing. The author presents a perspective on "choice points," those moment by moment choices we make that seem insignificant but in reality affect our lives and those in our lives to a great degree. I have a serious tendency to focus everywhere but the moment I'm currently dwelling inside and so lack awareness of the immediate effects wrought by my words and actions. This choice points lens has the potential to change my daily vision.

As it has in the past I've no doubt that this blog of mine can be useful in the quest for reflection and awareness. I don't know if I have any readers left, absent as I've been. If I do though, I thank you and I welcome your input.