Advent — Hope and Waiting

This post is a response to a post on another blog. The author of that post poses a very challenging question. I commend her for the wonderful way in which she crafted the question …. Well done… You got me thinking and I really appreciate it!!! You can access the original post here.

Advent is about waiting. Christmas is about fulfillment. One without the other is foolishness and a waste of time.

For me, waiting is about several things:

  • learning
  • knowing the what
  • knowing the how

Submitting to the journey of learning “the what” and “the how” is the difference between legitimate “waiting” that is about “hoping” and “wishing” that is about “wanting.”

Waiting is not easy. Our worldly waiting is certainly not empty. If it is not faithful (uninformed) waiting that does not mean it is empty. We will fill it with all kinds of foolishness. We want WHAT WE WANT and we WANT IT NOW.  Wanting and the greed that goes with it is what we fill the empty space within us that is supposed to be filled with hope. We need to hit bottom before we are willing to admit that we have something to learn and to actually learn it.

What is more, learning is hierarchical. Sorry to give some of you bad news, but the spirit of egalitarianism in society and in the Church does not serve us well when it comes to learning. Does that mean triumphalism or an “I’m better than you” attitude? Not in the least. It means just the opposite – humility. Humility to admit we have something to learn and humility to admit that we have something to teach/share. We are all pilgrims on the way, but the way has a hierarchical quality of teaching and learning that is undeniable and essential. (If you still doubt it, read the New Testament with this question in mind. Egalitarianism is not what you will find.)

For me, waiting is about a spirit of expectancy. Expectancy, that God will display His faithfulness in my life and the lives of those around me, both near and far. That display of faithfulness is ALL about Jesus –present and actively leading the way into the future via the ever-present, present.

Let me say right here and now that hope built on ANYTHING or ANYONE besides Christ Jesus is NOT hope. It is wishful thinking or delusion or call it what you will. But it is not hope. And the same thing goes for waiting.

For me, waiting is, therefore, about God keeping His promises in Christ Jesus. Divine promise keeping – Christ Jesus – is the substance of my hope whatever the circumstance. The “what” of hope is based on the object or reason or goal for our waiting. What is the point? Why are you engaged in the activity of waiting? In short, the “what” of our waiting and hoping is the promise of God in Christ Jesus that is scandalously particular for you RIGHT NOW. Sounds really “theological” and “vague?” Give you an example? OK, let me give you a scenario that any pastor reading this will be able to identify with in their years of ministry over and over and over:

An elderly person lying in a hospital bed or hospice situation who is afraid of the process of dying and afraid of what will happen to them when they die. They are stuck between two monumental fears. A life filled with painful waiting that has been forced on them not chosen. What is the “point” of the waiting? Where is the hope?!  

What do you say?! What do you do?!

The “goal and substance of our trust” is the “what” of hope. The goal that fuels all present value decisions and action is the “what” of hope. Let me quote a bunch of passages that solidify the “what” of hope:

  • [18] “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.I will put my Spirit upon him,and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.[19] He will not wrangle or cry aloud,nor will any one hear his voice in the streets;[20] he will not break a bruised reedor quench a smoldering wick,till he brings justice to victory; [21] and in his name will the Gentiles hope.” (Matthew 12.18-21)

 

  • [22] “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — [23] this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. [24] But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. [25] For David says concerning him, `I saw the Lord always before me,for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;[26] therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;moreover my flesh will dwell in hope.[27] For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades,nor let thy Holy One see corruption.[28] Thou hast made known to me the ways of life;thou wilt make me full of gladness with thy presence.’ (Acts 2.22-28)

 

  • [1] Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [2] Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. [3] More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5.1-5)

 

  • [22] We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; [23] and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. [26] Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. [27] And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8.22-27)

 

  • [19] If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15.19)

 

  • [5] For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. [6] For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5.5-6)

 

  • [23] Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; [24] and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
    [25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10.23-25)

 

  • [1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12.1-2)

 

  • [3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, [5] who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [6] In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, [7] so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3.1-7)

The “how” of hope is based on “how” we wait. This aspect is best articulated by the image of weaving. Now, at this point I would like to draw on what my Old Testament seminary professor told us when we were studying Isaiah (I assume he was accurate. But, even if he was not technically accurate he was theologically accurate.) The passage we were studying was Isaiah 40.28-31:

  • [28] Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    The LORD is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
    He does not faint or grow weary,
    his understanding is unsearchable.
    [29] He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
    [30] Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
    [31] but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
    they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

He said that the word “wait” implies the activity of “actively weaving strands together to make a strong cord.” Of course, that made (and still makes) all the difference in the passage. Why??? Because we have been taught a fallen and death-laden notion of “waiting.” For us it is passive. For us it does not involve our participation. We are “at the mercy” of the one upon whom we wait. (Imagine the doctor’s office waiting room. We are left to bite our nails, imagine all kinds of terrible outcomes, and generally begin to doubt the wisdom of waiting as a result.)

When I began to extend and apply this definition of waiting to the rest of Scripture, hidden meaning began to leap off the page!!! All of a sudden I was part of that for which I waited. Now here is a big pit into which we can fall pretty quickly. The pit of manipulation. I can turn my cooperation in waiting into trying to manipulate and arrange the future. A risk to be sure. But, both passivity and over zealous manipulation are both dangers inherent in learning what to wait for and how to wait.

Perhaps we do not learn to wait because we do not want to fall into either of these pits. That is just another, and bigger, pit!

But, moving on…

So, we wait by “weaving.”

The first “how” of waiting is resisting the tendency to become isolated – the opposite of being woven together.

  • Perhaps the idea of being woven together is behind the idea of being “yoked” that Jesus uses. The image is different but the result is the same.

[28] Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)

  • Perhaps the idea of being woven together is at the heart of the passages from Hebrews that I hear quoted SO often:

[23] Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; [24] and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
[25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10.23-25)

[1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12.1-2)

Maybe it is my imagination, but I hear echoes or the underlying sense of being “woven together” in all these passages. I could get all “philosophical” and “patriotic” and quote the Greek slave & fable author Aesop (620 BC – 560 BC), who said: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

The weaving is, in addition, a two way street. I weave myself actively into the life of Christ Jesus and His Church AND I am woven into by Christ Jesus and His Church. That requires openness and trust. Risky? Yes. But necessary. The alternative is isolation.

We also learn that the weaving involves three strands.  The “three strand” cord is the individual believer, God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the Church. (Tough news… for all of you non-institutional folks the Church is necessary. And, oh by the way, a particular kind/shape of Church as constituted by the Holy Spirit not the prerogative of well-intentioned disciples who have a better idea that God…)

The passage from Isaiah proclaims the fruit of this “waiting” that is weaving. Strength that results in the victory of God’s fulfilled promises.

And, there is another three strand cord that is woven in the midst of this divine-human weaving. It is the weaving of hope with faith and love. Let me reference two passage quoted above:

  • [5] For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. [6] For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5.5-6)

 

  • [3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, [5] who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [6] In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, [7] so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3.1-7)

Notice the weaving of love and faith with hope?

As for “answers”… I somehow have more room for the journey and Jesus these days than a need for “answers.” Not wishy washy Jesus… Not a “I don’t know” ….  Not an attitude in which the content of the gospel is “up for grabs” or called into question… No, just the opposite. I am more deeply convinced of the truth of the gospel than ever and the definite shape it takes in the lives of those who have come to know the “true faith” as the Divine Liturgy proclaims. I do know. I know Him in whom I have believed. I am more definite and clear and deeply convicted that He is the answer… Not a glib bumper sticker “answer” but a living encounter with the living, present, ministering and providing Lord. (He calls into question all of my glib “certainties” and “answers.”) The true answer is an answer that does not fit on a bumper sticker.

So, waiting is not empty nor is it passive. But, it is not instantaneous or magic. It is learned and it requires letting go of our “wish dreams” to borrow a phrase from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Waiting is costly but returns infinite dividends… Living in the fulfillment of the promises of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Fr. Thomas

Unseen Warfare: Our Struggle Toward Perfection — The Invitation, Mandate, and Promise #3

In the final paragraphs of Staretz Nicodemus’ introduction to Unseen Warfare, he issues an invitation. As with all of the invitations God issues to us, it involves a mandate and a promise.

What is the mandate? What obedience are we called to “take on”?

So, Christ-loving readers, accept this book graciously and gladly, and learning from it the art of ‘Unseen Warfare’, strive not merely to fight, but to fight according to the law, to fight as you should, so that you may be crowned. For according to the Apostle, ‘If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully’ (II Tim. Ii.5). Arm yourselves, as this book shows you how, so as to strike down your inner and invisible foes, which are the soul-destroying passions and their originators and instigators – the demons. ‘Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil’ (Eph. Vi. 11). Remember how at holy Baptism you vowed to renounce Satan and all his works, all service of him, and all his pride, that is, love of lust, love of glory, love of money and other passions. So strive with all your might to turn him (the devil) back, to put him to shame and to overcome him with every perfection… So now take up this aim, take up this work, and abstain from all things ‘that no man take thy crown’ (Rev. iii.11)… So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things… If, inspired by zeal, you gain this victory and this radiant crown, do not forget, my brethren, to pray the Lord for the remission of sins of him, who had helped you to acquire such blessings by means of this book. But above all do not forget to raise your eyes to heaven and to give thanks and praise to the first Source and Cause of your victory, our God and Leader Jesus Christ… (pg. 73-74)

Our warfare is not to be entered into lightly, randomly, presumptuously according to our own devising. We are not equipped to conquer the enemy. Only by grace can we win the victory. So, we fight with the praise, purpose, plan, penitence, and provision of God’s grace. The mandate is clear. Trust and obey in a spirit of radical honesty and gratitude!!

That is the mandate that accompanies the invitation.

What is the promise?

And what are the rewards which await you in this victory? They are many and great. Hear of them from the lips of the Lord Himself, Who makes you this promise in the holy Revelation: ‘To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God’ (Rev. ii. 7). ‘He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death’ (Rev. ii. 11). ‘To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna’ (Rev. ii. 17). ‘And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations . . . and I will give him the morning star’ (Rev. ii. 26, 28). ‘He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment . . . I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels’ (Rev. iii. 5). ‘Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God’ (Rev. iii. 12). ‘To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne’ (Rev. iii. 21). “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son’ (Rev. xxi. 7)… See what gifts! See what rewards! See this eight-fold many coloured incorruptible crown, or rather, these crowns prepared for you, brethren, if you overcome the devil!

God is faithful. He will do all that He has promised!! What gain in comparison to such a small cost! St. Paul says, having realized this fact:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith;  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3.7-14)

The call to wage the “Unseen Warfare” is the upward call, the heavenward call.

Let us answer the invitation, soberly accepting the mandate, with the promise before us.

Fr. Thomas

The Divine Liturgy and My Everyday Life

Why has the Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Divine Liturgy for His Church?

Why do we, who gather on the Lord’s Day and on other occasions of importance, begin with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy?

Is there, by His grace, an essential provision for our life together than cannot be fully accessed or lived except that we celebrate and participate in His death and resurrection in this manner??

Difficult but essential questions…

William Law, begins his classic work, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, with this essential question. Here is his answer:

“For there is no other reason why our prayers should be according to the will of God, why they should have nothing in them but what is wise, and holy, and heavenly; there is no other reason for this, but that our lives may be of the same nature, full of the same wisdom, holiness, and heavenly tempers, that we may live unto God in the same spirit that we pray unto Him. Were it not our strict duty to live by reason, to devote all the actions of our lives to God, were it not absolutely necessary to walk before Him in wisdom and holiness and all heavenly conversation, doing everything in His Name, and for His glory, there would be no excellency or wisdom in the most heavenly prayers. Nay, such prayers would be absurdities; they would be like prayers for wings, when it was no part of our duty to fly.

As sure, therefore, as there is any wisdom in praying for the Spirit of God, so sure is it, that we are to make that Spirit the rule of all our actions; as sure as it is our duty to look wholly unto God in our prayers, so sure is it that it is our duty to live wholly unto God in our lives. But we can no more be said to live unto God, unless we live unto Him in all the ordinary actions of our life, unless He be the rule and measure of all our ways, than we can be said to pray unto God, unless our prayers look wholly unto Him. So that unreasonable and absurd ways of life, whether in labour or diversion, whether they consume our time, or our money, are like unreasonable and absurd prayers, and are as truly an offence unto God.

It is for want of knowing, or at least considering this, that we see such a mixture of ridicule in the lives of many people. You see them strict as to some times and places of devotion, but when the service of the Church is over, they are but like those that seldom or never come there. In their way of life, their manner of spending their time and money, in their cares and fears, in their pleasures and indulgences, in their labour and diversions, they are like the rest of the world. This makes the loose part of the world generally make a jest of those that are devout, because they see their devotion goes no farther than their prayers, and that when they are over, they live no more unto God, till the time of prayer returns again; but live by the same humour and fancy, and in as full an enjoyment of all the follies of life as other people. This is the reason why they are the jest and scorn of careless and worldly people; not because they are really devoted to God, but because they appear to have no other devotion but that of occasional prayers.” (Chapter 1)

William Law communicates several important concepts that we need to consider as “non-negotiable” personally and corporately:

  • Our life in Christ is an organic whole. It is foolishness to conceive of a compartmentalized life as having anything to do with the meaning of true discipleship. We must seek to be the same person in Church; at home; at the factory; and on the bus. It is not “OK” to be one person in Church and another on the street. One of the most powerful witnesses of the truth of the gospel is the integrity of our life – we are the same in Church and on the street.
  • Likewise, one of the most powerful reasons (excuses) for not following Christ is the lack of this consistency among those who profess Christ with their lips in Church but deny Christ in their everyday actions.
  • The Divine Liturgy (which is the very pinnacle of prayer) is essentially tied to experiencing lasting change in the areas of our everyday life where we desire to grow into the likeness of Christ. We cannot say our prayers without expecting our life to change and we cannot expect our life to change if we do not say our prayers.
  • All prayer that truly glorifies God is prayed by disciples who desperately seek and embrace the cross and its transformative power.
  • If all of this is true, THE prayer of the Church is the Divine Liturgy. It makes explicit each and every one of these core values AND provides the grace for them.

If we are to take this linkage to be a “serious call,” then we must look into the core of the Divine Liturgy. What is actually going on as we celebrate?!

The Holy Eucharist is the dynamic union of God’s love and faithfulness with our desperateness of our need. The fruit of that union is the manifestation of God’s mercy and our transformation. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware sums up the powerful mystery of the Holy Eucharist in his book, The Power of the Name. In it, he speaks of the use of the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”), but could be, and is I believe, speaking about the Holy Eucharist. He says:

“It embraces the two chief ‘moments’ of Christian worship: the ‘moment’ of adoration, of looking up to God’s glory and reaching out to him in love; and the ‘moment’ of penitence, the sense of unworthiness and sin. There is a circular movement within the Prayer, a sequence of ascent and return… ‘Those wh have tasted the gift of the Spirit’, it is stated in the Marcarian Homilies, ‘are conscious of two things at the same time: on the one hand, of joy and consolation; on the other, of trembling and fear and mourning.’ Such is the inner dialectic of the Jesus Prayer [the Holy Eucharist ! Fr.T].

These two moments – the vision of divine glory and the consciousness of human sin – are united and reconciled in a third ‘moment’ as we pronounce the word ‘mercy’. ‘Mercy’ denotes the bridging of the gulf between God’s righteousness and the fallen creation. He who says to God, ‘Have mercy’, laments his own helplessness but voices at the same time a cry of hope. He speaks not only of sin but of its overcoming. He affirms that God in his glory accepts us through we are sinners, asking us in return to accept the fact that we are accepted. (pg. 10-11)

“Mercy” is the name of God’s provision no matter what our need. The form that “mercy” takes for you and me is a renewed sense of God’s specific vision for our life and the life of the Church as well as a renewed indication of God’s will for you in relationship to that vision.

If our prayers are to “avail much” in everyday living then they need to be informed and fueled by regular participation in the Divine Liturgy. What is more, our everyday living must come into practical contact with and inform our participation in the Divine Liturgy.

Fr. Thomas

The Atheist Version of Thanksgiving and Events Similar To It

Here is a response from an atheist to a post that Darrell Lackey wrote on the subject of atheism and thankfulness. His blog, “Byzantine Dream,” can be accessed on my blogroll. I HIGHLY recommend reading his wonderful posts.

Anyway, the atheist said in response to Darrell:

“…the atheist is very generally thankful to be experiencing existence, rather than non-existence. Not that non-existence would be (will be; was) painful or unpleasant, but that existence has a special, powerful flavor and joy to it that, if one can savor it, one can also be thankful for.

Not thankful to anyone or to anything, but just existentially thankful for being. Simple as that. I realize that, since this natural impulse is naturally susceptible to objectification, even idolotry, people typically conjure up deities, beings, statues, etc. to be thankful to, but that is really unnecessary. I mean, when you say thank you, does anyone reply with ‘you’re welcome?’”

Darrell responded:

One can see it now. The family is gathered around the table. Candles are lit as a fire burns in the fire place. Moon light reflects off the windowpane as a light snow begins to fall. The table is steaming with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and hot rolls. There is also salad, small bowls of cranberry, pickles, olives, and butter. The kitchen counter is full of pumpkin, apple, and cherry pies along with apricot and peach cobblers. Along with the champagne, wine, and fruit juices being served, one can smell coffee brewing and the tea kettle is hot.

The father, looking around at his healthy children and beautiful wife, raises his glass to make a Thanksgiving toast. His family and friends raise their glasses in expectation, looking his way, as they take in the moment. The father clears his throat, and states: “Let us be thankful we exist.” There is an awkward pause. Finally the youngest child asks, “Dad, you mean let’s be glad we’re not dead?” “Well,” the father replies but, before he can answer, the oldest daughter states: “But Dad, worms and maggots exist too, are they thankful?” “What I meant,” the Dad now stammered, “was, oh never mind, let’s just eat.”

I bring, the words of Fr. Alexander Schmemann to this interchange. In his wonderful book, Celebration of the Faith, Vol. 3, he hits the nail on the head regarding gratitude. He links feasting with being authentically human. He says,

 It seems thousands of years removed from us, but it was not so very long ago that life was marked out by religious feasts. Although everyone went to church, not everyone, of course, knew the exact contents of each celebration. For many, perhaps even the majority, the feast was above all an opportunity to get a good sleep, eat well, drink and relax. And nevertheless, I think that each person felt, if not fully consciously, that something transcendent and radiant broke into life with each feast, bringing an encounter with a world of different realities, a reminder of something forgotten, of something drowned out by the routine, emptiness and weariness of daily life.

Consider the very names of the feasts: Entrance into the Temple, Nativity, Epiphany, Presentation, Transfiguration. These words alone, in their solemnity, their unrelatedness to daily life and their mysterious beauty awakened some forgotten memory, invited, pointed to something. The feast was a kind of longing sigh for a lost but beckoning beauty, a sigh for some other way of living.

Our modern world, however, has become monotonous and feastless. Even our secular holidays are unable to hide this settling ash of sadness and hopelessness, for the essence of celebration is this breaking in, this experience of being caught up into a different reality, into a world of spiritual beauty and light. If, however, this reality does not exist, if fundamentally there is nothing to celebrate, then no manner of artificial uplift will be capable of creating a feast.

[Feasts] …celebrate man’s divine meaning and the brightness of his high calling. These cannot be washed away or uprooted from human memory.

The sad, and yet grimly accurate picture of Thanksgiving has a glimmer of hope. The dad cannot just sit there. Even though he cannot articulate it, he KNOWS he must rise and say SOMETHING, however meager…

At least the atheist is willing to admit something of what I believe is really deep within his heart “thankful for being,” although that has a sad “thinness” about it. We all play “hide and seek” with God. Perhaps some are able to “shore up the make believe world” of atheism longer than others. Somehow, I think it takes more “magical thinking” to believe that God doesn’t exist and there is nothing to be thankful for or give one’s life for, than to just admit and celebrate, along with Gerard Manley Hopkins that:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Fr. Thomas