The Psalms are the songbook of the ancient Hebrew people. They encompass the whole of human emotion and experience and even though it was a time and place very different from our time and place, the depth of human emotion in these songs resonates throughout all time. The writer of Psalm 30 offers thanks to God and does so even while remembering the times when there has been weeping and mourning.
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
In the weeks of November, we give thanks…something we also endeavor to do every day. We’ve been looking at giving thanks through the lens of a book by Ann Voskamp, “One Thousand Gifts.” She reminds us that when Jesus took bread and gave thanks, the word in the original Greek for give thanks is eucharisteo. Out of her work, I chose 4 themes for November—Attitude of Gratitude, Grace in the Moment, All is Grace, and Trust: the Bridge to Joy. Today is “All is Grace.” The chapter title is “What in the world, in all this world, is grace?” By now we have learned Ann’s story is not all sunshine and roses—that life for her has been very much like the rest of us…some wonderful, easy to give thanks, times, and some tragic, where in the world is God now, times.
When Ann begins this chapter, she has already completed the dare that began this book—a list of one thousand things she loves, things for which she is grateful. On this day giving thanks, eucharisteo, is challenged in a unexpected way. She calls it the hard eucharisteo. As she is watering the flowers, one of her children comes running from the barn to shout, “Levi’s hand went through a fan at the barn!” The short story is that Levi still has a hand and ten fingers even though one is badly damage and requires surgery. At the news, Ann’s mother whispers “God’s grace…God’s grace.” Ann thinks, “And if his hand had been right sheared off? What of God’s grace then? Can I ask that question?”
Hard eucharisteo—we’ve all been in this place. We’ve heard people say “God spared me” when an accident happened. But what about the one who wasn’t spared? What of God’s grace then?
Ann’s question leads to a poem and another set of questions:
Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
G. K. Chesterton
“Why doesn’t anyone ask that why question? Why are we allowed two: Why lavished with three? A whole string of grace days?”
In Psalm 30 death is the main threat from which the psalmist seeks deliverance. The main problem with death, however, is not simply the cessation of life. The Psalms and the Hebrew Bible recognize mortality as part of being human. In Psalm 30 death is personified as a force that threatens the living.
Contemporary theologian, Walter Brueggemann teaches that “giving thanks” to God is also a confession of acceptance that it is God who gives us new life, new hope, and who transforms our mourning into joyful dancing; and who discards our dreary mourning robes and clothes us in joy. He also teaches “confessing” is making a commitment and to “confess” my thanks to God is to recommit myself to God! There are many definitions regarding “confession”, but most relate to something we have done or failed to do. In the early church, new believers were encouraged to confess their faith in God. The Psalmist is confessing faith in the God to whom he gives thanks even as he weeps and mourns because he believes that God will transform his sorrow into joy.
Here’s where the writing of gifts can be a help in our lives. Writing the list is to practice giving thanks. When we practice eucharisteo—giving thanks—we make it a habit. That habit sustains us when we face the dark times of life. When we practice eucharisteo, we prepare for the moment when the bottom drops out of life, be it an accident, illness, death, unemployment, or any number of ways losses come in life. Ann says when giving thanks to God becomes a habit, joy in God becomes your life. Recent scientific research says that those who keep gratitude lists:
1) Have relative absence of stress and depression
2) Make progress toward important personal goals
3) Have higher levels of determination and energy
4) Feel closer in their relationships and desire to build stronger relationships
5) Increase their happiness by 25%
Who doesn’t need more happiness in their lives?
In Revelation we are told that when we enter into the New Jerusalem, the new life after death, we are healed by the leaves of the Tree of Life. But even though we are healed, we came in with wounds, and we will survive with scars. Even though Jesus was resurrected into his new self, as King of Kings, he carries with him the scars of his human suffering.
So even though we may be healed, nothing removes scars of the suffering and losses we have endured. Maybe the scars will be received as blessings—reminders that God was indeed present with us in our worst times, and is still present with us. The scars serve the same purpose as the rainbow—a reminder, a remembrance, and a promise. All is grace. God is always good.
At the end of Les Misérables the characters both living and dead sing these words:
Do you hear the people sing lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.
The Psalms are the songs of people lost in the valley of the night. They are the music of a people who are climbing to the light. They believed even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. They sang: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O God, I will give thanks to you forever.” God is always good and we are always loved.
“One act of thanksgiving, when things go wrong with us,
is worth a thousand thanks
when things are agreeable to our inclinations.”
St. John of Ávila