Thou that hast given so much to me
give one thing more, a grateful heart.
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
as if Thy blessings had spare days —
but such a heart, whose pulse may be Thy praise.
from “Gratefulness” by George Herbert
Cultivating, expressing, and living a life of gratitude are decisions we each make for ourselves. Feeling grateful can come from a place of abundance in our lives, but I have a feeling it comes more often from a place of scarcity, or even despair. Those moments when we are stripped down to a basic level of survival – be that emotional or physical survival – and we somehow summon gratitude for another day, a kindness shown, or even just an awareness that our pain is a sign that we have loved and been loved. These are clear connections with God in a way that lifts us from scarcity to abundance.
Think of all that you are blessed with. A loving family? Educational opportunities? The chance to travel the world? Material wealth? Good health? Sincere friendships? Resilience? Charisma? The possibilities are many. The best gifts are given without expectation of anything in return, but blessings? Those put us in God’s debt and we do owe something back to the world for our blessings.
President Kennedy, echoing words from Luke 12:48, reminded a prosperous America in 1961: “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.”
* * * * *
Three people in the past week or so have individually mentioned the same hymn to me. Coincidence? Holy Spirit? It comes from The Hymnal 1940, and though I know the tune well (the wonderfully sturdy Welsh tune, supposedly found in a bottle on its rugged coastline…Ton-y-botel), the words were less familiar to me. I suppose the editorial committee for The Hymnal 1982 couldn’t imagine us singing these words into the 21st century and so it didn’t make the cut:
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
From a poem written to protest the Mexican War and the increased territory for slavery which that war portended, the hymn’s text continues:
Then the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied (v. 2), and …toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back; new occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth (v. 3) and in the final verse…Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ’tis truth alone is strong.
You will find the text in its entirety here. Do you agree that these words have relevance for us in 2017, occasional masculine language notwithstanding? New Calvaries, God’s new Messiah…new occasions teach new duties…new forms of human cruelty and deception, new reasons to strengthen our resolve for truth and justice.
This is bold language, words to shake us from complacency. Perhaps too directive though, too black and white? But aren’t some things simply wrong? Is every problem shaded in gray? If a simple question were to be asked of any action – does it create more goodwill and love in the world? – would that pull us out of some of life’s gray areas?
Each of us has abundant blessings of one kind or another. Our obligation in turn is to see each decision – even seemingly insignificant ones – as moments to decide ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
With a grateful heart,