Monday, November 21, 2022

Always Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving Day my wife and I may not be dining at a heavily laden table surrounded by extended family as we had hoped. For first time in our lives it might be just the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner. We will have to wait and see.

The reason for the uncertainty is that we came down with COVID recently. Even though we are feeling better now, we want to make sure we are not contagious. We certainly do not want to give our loved ones an unwanted viral holiday gift! That is a gift you do not want to regift!

So we are waiting the recommended ten-day period, and we will take a COVID test the day before Thanksgiving to make sure we are safe. The whole ordeal has made us appreciate how much we are grateful for the presence of family during the holidays. Consequently I have been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving and what it means to give thanks.

One of the Bible’s most well-known passages on this topic was written by Apostle Paul. He says to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Sermons on this text often follow the natural breakdown of the passage: rejoice, pray, give thanks.

The underlying theme is the word “always.” Paul says, “Rejoice always.” The word “always” is unexpected. We tend to rejoice only when good fortune comes our way. Then he tells us to “pray without ceasing.” In other words, pray always. We tend to pray only when we feel the need to do so. He says, “give thanks in all circumstances.” We all give thanks when blessings are flowing. The difference in Paul’s approach is that we are to do these three spiritual practices always.

He is not asking us to do the impossible, namely to wear a happy face all the time regardless of circumstances. He is not instructing us to shout “Praise God!” when tragedies befall us or those we love. He does not intend for us to be muttering prayers under our breath 24/7. He is not suggesting that we thank God when we witness injustice or see people in pain. In calling us to engage in these spiritual practices always, the apostle calls our attention to what is always present in the midst of the vicissitudes of life.

He is pointing us to the Divine Presence that is always here now. He is calling us to look beyond the fabric of time and space to what is eternal. He is pointing us to the Peace that dwells at the hub of the wheel of life. The wheel of life turns round and round. Sometimes it brings joy and sometimes sorrow. Sometimes pleasure and sometimes pain. Sometimes laughter and sometimes tears. “For everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes reminds us. All emotions have their appropriate time and place.

Yet at the center of all seasons of life there is a place of deep peace, joy, and gratitude that is always present. It is a deep spring from which flows living water even in the middle of an emotional desert. It is the eternal eye at the center of the storms of life. This is where God dwells, even when there is suffering and death on the surface.

Knowing this ever-present peace is “the will of God in Christ Jesus,” according to the apostle. The indwelling Christ is present in sickness and health, wealth and poverty, sadness and happiness. “I will be with you always,” said Jesus. Christ is always. The only way to “give thanks in all circumstances” is to pay attention to what is present in all circumstances. It is a matter of where you are looking.

This Gift of Eternal Presence is eternal life. It is beyond time and space. It is knowing now – and always - the Reality of the Omnipresence of God. Jesus referred to this as the Kingdom of God. This is as present in the suffering of Good Friday as in the joy of Christmas Day. It is present on Thanksgiving Day and every day. In other words it is always Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Living in an AFib World

I was feeling out of sorts recently. I didn’t have the energy to stack cordwood with my grandson one Thursday afternoon. I was dizzy, light-headed and had to rest. I felt the same way the next morning while doing chores around the house. Something wasn’t right. So we took a trip to Urgent Care. They examined me and sent me to the ER.  That was on a Friday. I did not emerge from the hospital until Monday afternoon. My hospital stay lasted exactly 72 hours.

Long story short, after many tests they discharged me with a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, often called AFib. It is a common type of heart arrhythmia, which means my heart is beating irregularly. Because I have no other risk factors besides age, my type of AFib is no big deal. My blood just needs to be thinned a bit to prevent blood clots. I was told I just had to live with the symptoms when they occur.

It seems like there are an increasingly number of ailments I have to “live with” these days. It is the geriatric theme song, “One More Thing to Live With.” Oh, the joys of aging! Anyway I had a follow-up appointment with my primary care physician a few days later, and I have an appointment with a cardiologist scheduled for next month.

During the process I learned about atrial fibrillation. AFib happens when the top chambers of the heart (the atria) beat rapidly, irregularly, and out of synch with the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles). In my case my lower heart is plugging along at a steady 70 beats or so, while the top part of my heart is dancing like it is at a rave.

My physician explained that the atria are the heart’s natural pacemaker. She compared the atria to a conductor. Normally the ventricles take their cue from the atria. That works fine when the heart is functioning as it should. But in AFib the atria start racing, and the ventricles often rush to keep pace, sending the whole heart pounding as if it is running from a predator. Fortunately my heart does not follow instructions very well. My third grade teacher said the same thing.

Being who I am, I immediately saw a spiritual analogy. The world is running at a frantic pace. Our country is in AFib. Sometimes it feels like our country is going crazy. Our minds, emotions, and bodies follow suit. That is the problem. Our brains and bodies evolved during a simpler time. They were not designed for the complex stressors of modern culture. That is the reason for the high levels of anxiety and depression in our society.

Beneath all the fury of the world – including social media and political turmoil - is the slow steady beat of the Spirit. It is the rhythm of the Song of God. It is all a matter of which rhythm you listen to. Thoreau observed, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Good advice! There are two levels of life. The upper level of emotions and thoughts are spinning out of control, while the lower level of the Spirit is doing just fine. There is no way to control outward stimuli or emotional reactions. The only other option is not to be governed by them. Let the world be as it is. Let emotions respond as they will. Let thoughts go where they will. All we need to do is keep our attention on the Spirit.

The good news is that this Spirit is the same Spirit that ultimately governs the universe. Its nature is Love. Its core is Peace. It is our Home. When our “heart” (not the physical organ but our spiritual center) is beating in rhythm with the heart of God, then all is right in our lives. That is “the peace that surpasses understanding.” That is the Kingdom of God. I say this from the bottom of my heart.