Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Saying 'thank you' was perhaps never easy, which is probably why the Psalmist has to order it done: "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!" It is, nevertheless, absolutely essential to living the truth as a human being.  We are all dependent creatures, very much at the mercy of accidents and evils, and there are many times in our lives that we cannot survive, much less flourish, without the help of others.  Thanksgiving is a way of acknowledging dependence, not merely a social convention designed to stave off hurt feelings of those we take advantage of.  For thanksgiving to be real, we must practice it regularly, and it must lead to a change of heart, to humility and ultimately, if we are Christians at least, to faith.

I am frequently asked about how to pray.  Again, this is not a new puzzle for those seeking God.  The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples.  Many of the Fathers wrote long treatises on prayer.  The one most influential to me is John Cassian's Conferences 9 & 10.  Conference 10 is the more famous, dealing as it does with apparent states of mystical prayer.  But Conference 9 offers four practical suggestions for praying based on St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 2: 1.  (This sort of exegesis often appears capricious to us moderns, but I have found this one most helpful through experience)  We pray by acknolwedging our sins, second, by determining to amend our lives and make offerings to God in the future (what Cassian and Paul, following Old Testament usage, call 'vows').  Third, we ask God for what we need and intercede for others (the most common form of prayer, and what most people think of and do when they pray), and last but not least, we should thank God.  I find this last recommendation most helpful.  A few moments a day to recall the many blessings that God continually gives us, and to remember what he has promised us for eternity tends to dispel whatever gloomy prospects my cotidian existence portends.

A few weeks ago, I received an email with a somewhat anguished question regarding how frequently and for how long we can licitly ask God for something, before we become like whiney children.  As far as I can tell, we should constantly ask God for what we feel we need or even desire, with the important proviso that we accept his answer and give thanks for the fact that He always listens and answers, and always in a way that is to our benefit, whether we can understand that benefit immediately or not.  Indeed, start with thanksgiving, and you might decide that what you thought you needed isn't so important once you see what you have from God!

For His love endures forever!

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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