Thursday, November 03, 2005

3n1-1n3: Thank God We Made It!

Just what is there to be thankful for?

Text Box: 3n1 – 1n3Thank God We Made It!

The Rev. Andrew T. Gerns, Rector

No one would blame you for being jittery. What with hurricanes into the Greek alphabet (what is Greek for “wazoo” anyway?), tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, and then there are the man-made disasters. It is no wonder people are feeling jittery.

As we approach the holidays, it is easy find ourselves asking ourselves from under the covers, “what is there to be thankful about?”

I think that most of us know that life will include a fair share of bumps and set-backs, but when disaster upon disaster piles on, this is hard to sort out. Thankfulness is not the first thing that comes to mind—unless it is the kind of fatalistic thankfulness that we weren’t caught up in that mess.

Actually, when I was doing emergency room and fire department chaplaincy, I heard about thankfulness from surprising corners. Once I was working with a family who had been burned out of their home. The house was gutted. Nothing was left...or practically nothing. So little was left that any little thing that survived, even scorched, was a treasure. I remember going through their home and we found two things in the rubble that were held onto as if they were gold. One was a framed set of picture: the couple at their wedding in the middle and one each of their children as infants on either side. The glass had smoked over and the frame was dark, but somehow the pictures survived.

The other thing we found—actually a firefighter found it and presented it to the couple—was a piece of the kitchen door frame. On it were marked the heights and dates of their children. Somehow the flames skipped over this piece of wood. This was later installed it in their new home.

In the midst of everything lost, they found these two things and they were thankful.

I used to hear it all the time: thank God we got out alive; thank God no one was hurt; thank God that person was there at that moment.

Last winter we heard the story of a priest some of you may remember, the Rev. Charles Ramsden, who was in Thailand with his son and daughter in law when the tsunami hit their resort island. He described, among other things, watching in awe as his son sprung into action and helped organize a mini-relief and rescue operation from the second floor restaurant they found shelter in. He said he knew his son was a great guy, but never knew the depth until this moment.

Does this mean that God sent a tsunami so that one man might discover the depth of character in his son? Did God burn down a house so that a family might draw closer around a few otherwise forgettable treasures? No. I don’t believe God works that way. God does not send us bad things, or near misses, to make us pay attention better as if a hurricane were akin to a cosmic rap on the knuckles.

Where God is at work is through the crisis—showing up in people who care or in depths of selves we never knew about. And God is at work in what we do about what we have experienced. When we choose not to turn turtle and hide, when we choose to engage life more fully, when we realize what is of ultimate importance and then act on it, when we choose to go the hard places—and ask for help when we need it—this is where God is at work. This is the source of the thankfulness I have heard from people who have faced disaster great and small, personal and global.

We are not thankful for the disaster. We are thankful for life itself, and what we do with it. We are thankful for the gifts great and small that God has given us, even in the midst of catastrophe.

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