The older I get, the easier it is to give in to the habit of grumbling.  It's not easy to watch the world go to hell in a handbasket without complaint, and it’s part of the necessary wisdom of the elders to make the younger generations aware of what they are in danger of losing.  But too much of that attitude is unhealthy.  It’s bad for society and worse for the individual.  What, then, could be a better choice for my November New Year’s resolution than to cultivate a habit of thanksgiving?

Some of my favorite Bible verses are related to an attitude of thanksgiving.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  (Philippians 4:6)

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18)

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.   (1 Timothy 4:4)

The Bible also warns against grumbling, it being one of Israel’s troublesome sins.

Do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.  (1 Corinthians 10:10)

Most of my resolutions have come to me well in advance of my 8th of the month deadline, but this one, despite the clarity of the choice once it was made, did not.  It was especially interesting, therefore, to see how quickly after I made the decision I started seeing confirmation everywhere.  Not that I should have been surprised—‘tis the season of Thanksgiving!

The latest Christianity Today includes an essay on gratitude by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway; unfortunately it is not yet available online.  Hemingway makes the point, quoting Cicero, that “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”  She also provides a serious antidote to my statement above that it's not easy to watch the world go to hell in a handbasket without complaint.

Consider German pastor Martin Rinckart, who served a town that became a refuge for political and military fugitives during the Thirty Years War.  The situation in Eilenburg was bad even before the Black Plague arrived in 1637.  One pastor fled.  Rinckart buried another two on the same day.  The only pastor remaining, he conducted funeral services for as many as 50 people a day and 4,490 within one year.

Yet Rinckart is best known for writing, in the midst of the war, the great hymn that triumphantly proclaims this:

Now thank we all our God,

with heart and hands and voices

Who wonderous things has done,

in whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms

has blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love,

and still is ours today.

We sang that powerful hymn—in both English and the original German—at Janet and Stephan’s wedding, and I’ve long appreciated it, but I did not until now know its history.  You can learn more about it, hear the traditional tune to which it is sung, and view the words in German, at NetHymnal.

On the lighter side, Hemingway’s essay also alerted me to this video on grumbling in the midst of plenty.  Apparently it has been viral online for over a year, but if I’d never seen it, probably some of my readers haven’t either.  As modern comedy goes, it’s not terribly offensive, but neither is it grandchild safe.  It does, however, fit well with this resolution, and perfectly wtih my Good New Days series.

Developing an attitude of thanksgiving will take much practice, hence the title of this resolution.


Progress Report

I've taken to reading my list of resolutions out loud at the start of every day.  It does help keep me thinking about them.

#1  Read More Books  I'm doing even better here than I expected.  I've already met my year's goal of one book per week, and am only three books short of meeting the outside-chance, five-per-month (on average) goal that I thought was very unlikely even a month ago.  Next year I plan to revisit and analyze each resolution, but here's a preview for this one:  I'm convinced that the reason I've been so successful here is largely due to the fact that it is the only one of my resolutions that is easily quantifiable and measurable.

#2  Rediscover Feasting  I'll say one thing for Fasting Wednesdays—they certainly make me appreciate the other days of the week!  That said, I'm finally getting to the point where I can do without food for a day without thinking much about not eating.  That's a big step forward for me.

#3  Learn to Relax  I've been reading Into the Silent Land:  A Guide to the Christian Practice of COntemplation (that will be a link once I post my review) and while it's a difficult book, it has already helped me some here.

#4  Like More Things  Last month I reported learning to enjoy running.  This still needs some work before it's really "mine."  On the other hand, I think I'm solidly a fan of honey now.  There are still some forms I'm not that fond of—unfortunately, they tend to be the most common ones, like clover, which accounts for my heretofore lifelong averson—but our local beekeepers, Winter Park Honey, have taught me that I like far more varieties than I dislike:  raspberry (my hands-down favorite), blackberry, tupelo, Florida wildflower, avocado, fireweed ... who'd have thought varieties of honey could be so different, and so good?

On the non-food front, I'm learning to apply my Swiss laundry lesson to other chores:  Don't resent the time they take, don't rush to get them over and done with, don't even try to make them into a game, or to use the time for other purposes (composing essays, listening to books on tape).  Cultivate instead an appreciation for the task itself:  the dance-like rhythms of housecleaning, the feel of a baby's soft skin when changing diapers, the pleasure of physical exertion while shoveling snow, the satisfaction of watching words arrange themselves into a coherent paragraph, the deep forest scent on one's hands after pulling weeds.

#5  Pay Attention  Techniques from Into the Silent Land have thus far helped more here than with #3.  The idea of calmly, patiently, consistently and without self-reproach bringing the mind back to its proper focus of attention has been particularly useful.  It reminds me of a loving mother, helping her child learn to resist the temptation to grab a forbidden object by gently, but persistently, moving the child's hand back to where it belongs.

#6  Cast Away Fear  Believe it or not, Into the Silent Land seems to have applicability here, too.  I wish it were an easier book to understand!

#7  Talk Less, Listen More  It's funny, but when Porter is away I find myself taking over some of "his" regular conversations, such as with the folks who sit next to us at concerts, and certain people at church.  This involves both talking and listening more.

#8  Enjoy Spontaneity  I haven't written my planned GTD update yet, because I'm not nearly as far along in the process as I would like.  But in October I discovered that I've made more progress than I thought.  Thanks to having clearly spelled out for me what needed to be done before we could leave, and what could wait, I was able to enjoy our nearly spontaneous trip to Miami.  That's quite a change for me.

#9  End with the Beginning in Mind  Not much to report here, because of falling behind with GTD, but when I do manage to set things up for the morrow before going to bed, the next day always goes better.

#10  Care More about Other People—and Less about What They Think  I'm working on this—but as I said in #1, it's easier to report (and to make) progress when it's more quantifiable.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 8, 2010 at 10:47 am | Edit
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Into the Silent Land
Excerpt: Into the Silent Land:  A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation , by Martin Laird  (Oxford University Press, 2006) The physical benefits of meditative techniques are well established, and I’d like to be able to take adva...
Weblog: Lift Up Your Hearts!
Date: November 11, 2010, 8:35 pm