Monday, 17 October 2011

Various Aspects of Gratitude

As I consider the subject of Christian gratitude, I'm struck by the low level of search engine hits on the subject. Under the heading of "thanksgiving" there's a fair bit, including online bible dictionary and theological dictionary entries. But it's noteworthy that these deal almost exclusively with our debt of gratitude to God. It is this that has predominantly occupied Christians down the ages also.

There is vary little on the simple issue of "saying THANK YOU" to other people. The first Church at Jerusalem was of one heart and soul, sharing what they had with glad and generous hearts [Acts 2:46, 4:32]. Gratitude all over the place. But now it has almost become a lost art. Could this be a tacit proof of the individualism that has pervaded Christianity down the years?

Anyway, here are some of the links I found interesting in the course of my musings.

Here is an interesting selection of quotations and one-liners on the subject of gratitude, from Classical, secular and spiritual sources. This one got me thinking:
Next to ingratitude, the most painful thing to bear is gratitude. (Henry Ward Beecher)

Which of us hasn't sat on the horns of that dilemma when we've been kind to someone and they thank us? False modesty this way, self-praise that way...

This piece shows the importance of gratitude in the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Some of the quotes are a little odd to Western thinking, but there are some gems here.

Here, the wonderfully named "Sarcastic Lutheran" looks at 'gratitude and whole-life stewardship'.

Also from the Lutheran fold comes this piece on "Radical Gratitude: Experiencing life with thanksgiving by acknowledging God's abundant grace and living in generous freedom" - right next to a large blue GIVE NOW button!

If you're ready to get your brain aching, Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) writes this about gratitude in his vast compendium, Summa Theologica.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Gratitude In The Darkest Hour

Humanly speaking, Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In God's plan, though, he was in the right place and destined to be a shining example of gratitude to God in the direst of circumstances.

He had just been made Lutheran minister of the walled town of Eilenburg, north-east of Leipzig, when the Thirty Years War broke out. It lasted for the rest of his life, almost exactly 30 years. For all this time he served the townsfolk and the many hundreds of refugees who sought shelter there.

Soldiers were billeted in his house and they stole his belongings and the food meant for his family. But this was small compared to the suffering in the town. In 1637 a plague swept through the overcrowded slums, and in that one year alone, 8,000 people died. At that time there were four pastors in the town. One fled for his life and never returned. Two others contracted the plague while serving the sick and died.

As the only pastor left, Rinkart was in constant demand, visiting and comforting the sick and dying, and sometimes conducting funerals for 40-50 persons a day. In May of that year, his own wife died. Before long, plague victims had to be buried in trenches without services.

Even worse was to follow. After the plague came a famine so extreme that thirty or forty persons might be seen fighting in the streets for a dead cat or crow. Rinkart and the town mayor did what they could to organize relief; Rinkart gave away everything but the barest rations for his own family, and his door was usually surrounded by a crowd of starving wretches. So great were Rinkart's own losses and charitable gifts that he had the utmost difficulty in finding bread and clothes for his children, and was forced to mortgage his future income for several years.

And yet, living in a world dominated by death, Martin Rinkart's spirit was unbroken and clung to the true life of God. After years or horror and agonies, he wrote a prayer for his children to offer to the Lord. It was soon turned into a hymn, known to the English-speaking world through Catherine Winkworth's translation. It is a remarkable testimony to the faith of a remarkable man but also to the triumph of generosity and thankfulness over bestiality and despair.

Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother's arms,
Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace,
And guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills,
In this world and the next!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

More on the Grateful Heart

It's nice to hit the ground running sometimes. No sooner have I posted on "the generous heart", than the HTB Blog (Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, London, UK) posts this useful piece. "Thanksgiving is a lens through which to view our entire lives." Absolutely!

I especially like the emphasis on 'the sacrifice of praise', interpreted as a public act of thankgiving in the context of worship. King David in the book of Psalms often makes mention of this - and that it was a positive delight to offer such gratitude.

The post also gives a sober reminder from the New Testament: Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him (Romans 1:18–21).

John Schmidt, meanwhile, offers these thoughts on the grateful heart, linking it with material generosity.

Under the catchy title "The Attitude of Gratitude", looks at the natural selfishness of human nature and urges a discipline of thanksgiving as the antidote.
"The attitude of gratitude takes a conscious effort to master. Bombarded by negatives every day and surrounded by selfish people who are only looking out for themselves makes it extremely difficult to stay thankful. But, if the effort is made to always remain thankful no matter what the circumstances; the reward will be one of peace in the midst of the storm, joy in the midst of despair and a willingness to share of all one has."

Here, David Burchett considers the correct response when our act of generosity towards someone (in this case, a turtle, by the way!) is not received as rapturously as we would secretly like and expect.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Grateful Heart

Phil Whittall has the knack for getting me thinking. This post on his Simple Pastor blog looks at the logical corollary to the issue of generosity, namely gratitude.

Taking first the aspect of gratitude to God for His many mercies, where better to follow this up historically than with the following section from the "Long Rule (alternatively "Detailed Rule") for Monks, by Basil of Caesarea († 379).

What words can adequately describe God’s gifts? They are so numerous that they defy enumeration. They are so great that any one of them demands our total gratitude in response.

Yet even though we cannot speak of it worthily, there is one gift which no thoughtful man can pass over in silence. God fashioned man in his own image and likeness; he gave him knowledge of himself; he endowed him with the ability to think which raised him above all living creatures; he permitted him to delight in the unimaginable beauties of paradise, and gave him dominion over everything upon earth.

Then, when man was deceived by the serpent and fell into sin, which led to death and to all the sufferings associated with death, God still did not forsake him. He first gave man the law to help him; he set angels over him to guard him; he sent the prophets to denounce vice and to teach virtue; he restrained man’s evil impulses by warnings and roused his desire for virtue by promises. Frequently, by way of warning, God showed him the respective ends of virtue and of vice in the lives of other men. Moreover, when man continued in disobedience even after he had done all this, God did not desert him.

No, we were not abandoned by the goodness of the Lord. Even the insult we offered to our Benefactor by despising his gifts did not destroy his love for us. On the contrary, although we were dead, our Lord Jesus Christ restored us to life again, and in a way even more amazing than the fact itself, for his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave.

He bore our infirmities and endured our sorrows. He was wounded for our sake so that by his wounds we might be healed. He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for our sake, and he submitted to the most ignominious death in order to exalt us to the life of glory. Nor was he content merely to summon us back from death to life; he also bestowed on us the dignity of his own divine nature and prepared for us a place of eternal rest where there will be joy so intense as to surpass all human imagination.

How, then, shall we repay the Lord for all his goodness to us? He is so good that he asks no recompense except our love: that is the only payment he desires. To confess my personal feelings, when I reflect on all these blessings I am overcome by a kind of dread and numbness at the very possibility of ceasing to love God and of bringing shame upon Christ because of my lack of recollection and my preoccupation with trivialities.