“Rise and go your way. Your faith has made you whole.” Luke 17:19
The “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is not Christmas only. For me, it starts with Thanksgiving and extends through epiphany (Jan. 6). That’s 6+ weeks of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” And this year, we need every minute.
I’ve recently vowed to stop talking about how hard this year has been with its litany of complaints and disappointments, and I’m going to stick with that here for the most part. I only want to note that we live in a marvelous time. Technologically we have so much available to us to make our lives easier, safer, and interesting. Socially and politically we’re still, as a nation, able to weather controversy with a relatively few ripples compared to less stable nations and more tumultuous periods in our own nation’s past.
Even spiritually I find this to be an absolutely fascinating time to be alive and be a minor voice in the theological landscape. Of course, people are less religious now. That’s well-documented. And absolutely what passes for spirituality in many corners is little more than an unholy fusion of self-absorption and schmaltzy sentimentality…with a meditation app.
Yet, I run across so many signs of hope. I recently spoke to a young woman and asked how I could pray for her. I know her very superficially and nothing of her background, but her reply surprised me. “I want to know what truth is. I’m very interested in truth.” In both Protestant and Catholic circles, we’re hearing some terrific voices rising up to this challenge of presenting the truth of Christ to a very confused culture. It’s a golden age of Christian apologetics. Schmaltz is not filling. People will ask the important questions at some point. The Gospel still provides the best answers to these questions of truth, goodness, and beauty.
So, I’ve couched my litany of complaints for three paragraphs in a hopeful framework, but it’s still a backdoor way of hitting my points of concern. I vowed not to do that, but I did need to set up an important point: ask someone in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1968 if there was genuine cause for concern and our complaints sound especially thin and timid by comparison.
As believers we have so very much to be thankful for! I simply will not conform to the reigning fears of any age when I have the certainty of a God who became flesh so that I might be brought back to Him. Thanksgiving, both as a holiday and a spiritual discipline, sets us up perfectly to celebrate the wondrous incarnation of God.
Gratitude remains the most accessible spiritual discipline. It immediately changes our focus from self-pity to, well, thankfulness, and thankfulness involves focus on something outside of ourselves. I’ve known people who are irritated by the suggestion of making a gratitude list, as if that were so infantile as to be useless. Their very resistance highlights not the ineffectiveness of gratitude but the depth of their commitment to complaint. Complaint has a great deal of energy, but so does a hanging live wire. Neither should be touched. Complaint corrodes. Gratitude heals.
In the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers, I have no doubt that all 10 were thankful they were healed. They were “cleansed” on the way to the temple. Only one returned to Jesus to express his gratitude, and Jesus used an additional word to describe what this man experienced. Not only was he cleansed (v. 17), but he was also “made whole” (v. 19). His disease was gone, and his soul was made whole, or literally “saved,” because of gratitude.
Turning from complaint, seeing a blessing, and expressing gratitude to God is as simple a spiritual reboot as there is. I have nothing more practical and deeply theological than that. Gratitude makes us whole.
Frankly, I’m tired of my own complaint, doubt, and fear. All of these things fracture me. So, this GraaceWaves is a spiritual exercise and commitment for me. St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises recommended the Examen as a nightly practice. At the end of the day we express gratitude for each blessing, no matter how minor. I’ve drifted away from that practice in the last few weeks for some reason. I’m starting again tonight. Join me, and let God make us whole.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Terry Ellis
November 25, 2020