Recently, I’ve been reading through Paul’s letters. It’s always a good refresher to read an epistle a day and get a panoramic view of Paul’s mindset and priorities. One of those priorities which has stood out to me is the way that Paul constantly exemplified and commanded thanksgiving. I don’t hear enough or think enough about this practice which seems to be as fundamental to being human as eating and breathing. Paul holds a rich theology of enjoying God’s creation with thanksgiving—“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4).
Like so many, I’ve often been influenced by a spirituality which ignores or denies the goodness of creation. I used to implicitly believe that true spirituality consisted of dividing my mind somehow so that the more important part of me was constantly thinking about theology, praying, and reciting Bible verses, while the less important part of me could unconsciously float through necessary activities in the real world. When I thought like that, Paul would startle me when he would affirm the goodness of creation, like when he speaks to the people of Lystra proclaiming that God had “did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). I would think,“ ‘rain, fruitful seasons, food, and gladness’ seem so unspiritual.” Isn’t that an absolutely horrible way to live?
My parents have never lived that way. When I read Paul’s commands to constantly give thanks, I think of them. More than anything, they are people characterized by a simple gratitude and a joyous wonder at God’s creation. To them, everything is a gift. It’s a cliché statement, but I’m not really sure how else to say it. Because they lack presumption or entitlement, they are thankful for everything.
It’s not necessarily what they say, but their overall attitude.They are obsessed with the weather and hope for a beautiful day so that my dad can do his job, but even if doesn’t, they sit on the porch and wonder at the thunder and the lightning and the wind. When my dad gets business, it’s only from the Lord. When my parents have company, my mom chatters more happily about it than a Christmas present. They love it when people feel comfortable enough to just stop by and hang out for hours and hours. To them, it’s a gift to mow the lawn and smell the fresh-cut grass. For my mom, the crispness of clean sheets, the clarity of washed windows, the glory of a shiny sink can make her day. They love anything that is fresh and green and growing- - flourishing herbs, hydrangeas, soybeans, grass, green beans, corn, strawberries. They rejoice in their work, in their meals, in their church, in their home, in their garden, in their family, and in their friends
I don’t know anyone else who can talk so excitedly and at such great length about the weather and cleaning products and trucks. Admittedly, I tease them for it, often. But the more I learn, the more I realize that their attitude is so beautiful and humble and good. I hope that the same deep and simple gratitude will grow in me. It all reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s perspective in “Pied Beauty.”
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.