Our capacity to nurture an attitude of gratitude is greatly influenced by how we “see.” Luke says that the one who turned back to give Jesus thanks did so “when he saw he was healed” (17:15). The reference to “seeing” was obviously intended to imply more than physical sight. This man “saw” with a deeper wisdom; his insight sprang from a higher level of consciousness.
This is the challenge for all of us: Can we “see” beyond and through the chaotic circumstances that threaten to envelop us? Can we find some stability in God’s mercy and love, even when all hell breaks loose? Can we discover the underlying thread of God’s grace and presence beneath the rough, jagged texture of suffering and hardship?
I love the way Paul, in his letter to the Romans, describes God’s grace that enables us to overcome the failures and hardships of life: “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound” (Rom 5:20). God’s grace “out abounds” the consequences of sin—poor grammar, but excellent theology. Love will ultimately win. Redemption is God’s last word. God is large enough and great enough to absorb all the evil, tragedy, pain, and loss—reworking, reshaping, and redeeming it in due course.
An Irish priest on a walking tour of his rural parish observed an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest said to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers, thought for a moment, and then smiled, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.” That is not arrogance; that is our birthright as human beings.
Whatever hardship or tragedy we experience, God’s attitude of love toward us is constant. To Catch an Angel, by Robert Russell, is the autobiography of a young blind man who lived alone on an island in the middle of a river. He went rowing on the river almost everyday by means of a fairly simple system. To the end of the dock, he attached a bell with a timer set to ring every thirty seconds. In this way he was able to row up and down the river, and every thirty seconds judge his distance by the sound of the bell. When he’d had enough, he found his way home by means of the bell. In the young man’s words, “The river lies before me, a constant invitation, a constant challenge, and my bell is the thread of sound along which I return to a quiet base.”
Life is like a continually flowing river. God calls us to venture out on it where there is frequent challenge, danger, and excitement. Our security, however, rests in God’s unconditional love, which enables us to find our way back home.
(The preceding reflections were from my book, Shimmers of Light, Spiritual Reflections for the Christmas Season; click on book to the right to learn more or order)