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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Gratitude II: Blessed by Coincidence

All Souls’ Day

In our Education for Ministry seminar, we take turns preparing prayers to begin and end the session. The person whose turn it was today filled in a gap created by another student who is recovering from surgery (but--thanks to technology--able to participate via web conference!). However, she actually prepared them a few weeks ago for a session that ended up being cancelled.  Put that in your pocket for now.

Thomas Traherne Stained Glass WindowOne of the main activities of EfM are Theological Reflections, where the students pick an "object" (which can be anything from a scriptural passage, personal story, work of art, piece of music, opinion, dilemma, or an actual physical object) to examine from many perspectives, and then we see what insights and implications we can draw from the discussion.

This was our first TR for the year, and since we have three new students we picked an "old chestnut" for the experienced folks, the story of the prodigal son. One of the First Years, who has a background in theater, gave a wonderfully animated reading of it, skillfully inflecting the emotion of the various characters in the parable.

Because that was too big to focus on, we narrowed it down to the sentence "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." Now divorcing ourselves (de-contextualizing it) from the rest of the story, we stared at that sentence and talked about what its "world" would look like through the "perspective questions" of creation, sin, judgment and redemption. I won't bore you further with the guts of the process, but sufficient to say we landed on a resolve to be more generous and grateful for all that we have.

Then we did the closing prayer service, which concluded with the following prayer. Now remember, this was prepared a month or more before, with no knowledge of what today's class would be about, let alone what conclusion the group discussion would organically reach:
“Is not sight a jewel? Is not hearing a treasure? Is not speech a glory? O my Lord, pardon my ingratitude and pity my dullness who am not sensible to these gifts. The freedom of your bounty had deceived me. These things were too near to be considered. You presented me with your blessings and I was not aware. But now, I give thanks and adore and praise you for your inestimable favors.”
- THOMAS TRAHERNE (1636-1674)

I was bowled over by that. I wasn't familiar with the author, I noted the brevity of his life even for the time period. But I loved the perspective, given the anxiety so many of us are feeling in the days running up to this election.  It's so easy to forget what we have, and if it takes a coincidence like this to bring the point home, so be it.

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