I grew up in a Baptist church in the southern United States. I didn’t know the words “liturgy” or “lectionary.” My awareness of the church calendar, though I didn’t know to call it that either, included the Christmas Eve service, Easter Sunday, God and Country, and the alternative-to-Halloween Harvest Festival where I arrived in Queen Esther’s splendor one year and the humble virgin Mary’s another. I am deeply grateful for the heritage of faith that I received from my church and my family.
A semester overseas during college was my first sustained exposure to the High Church. I crossed my arms for a blessing in a catholic church where only the confirmed could receive communion. Another time, I stifled giggles in my pew when the Anglican priest had to consume a large portion of the communion wafer and wine because attendance was low. I attended a debate between Alister McGrath and an equally well-known catholic professor whose name didn’t stick. I was on the Protestant McGrath’s side. All of that exposure to the Holy Catholic Church prepared me for the communion of saints that would sustain me later in another place overseas.
In the remote location in China where I landed in 2005, the small believing foreign community met weekly. Though we hailed from at least as many different faith traditions as we did continents, we met in a format as familiar to me as potluck chicken spaghetti: worship, announcements, sermon, prayer, fellowship. We went on like this round and round the calendar, increasing in numbers, until one year we were politely but sternly asked to stop. The stop was sudden and jarring for our now bursting-the-apartment-seams group. We dispersed into much smaller groups along organizational lines for less frequent lower-key gatherings.
I wasn’t rocked. And I wasn’t isolated. I began to ravenously study spiritual disciplines. I tried some on. I hung some back on the rack. I wound others tightly around my vulnerable places like bandages. As I looked to those who knew something of the spiritual life through disciplines, I landed back in liturgical company, not physically this time, but in prayers and readings and celebrations that knit the people of God to one another and to Jesus.
The General Thanksgiving is a prayer of three sentences recited in unison near the end of the Daily Office. It’s a prayer to posture the heart in gratitude, to reorient vision to the Source-of-All-Good, and to order the chaos that launches from misplaced affections. Three lines that particularly rock my soul are:
…humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness…
The cross-section between knowing my need and feasting at the family table is where I want to spend all my days. This phrase orients me to God’s character.
…above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world…
Inestimable. Unable to estimate. Can’t grasp it, can’t reduce it. Love is what makes the world go round, and round again, and this view of that world says that things are getting better. Redemption was, and is, and is to come.
…give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives…
This is organic faith. It harnesses my striving and reminds me to choose the better part, which is always and in everything to get next to Jesus. When I live into these words, my being and doing coexist in a lot less tension.
The General Thanksgiving
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we thine unworthy servants
do give thee most humble and hearty thanks
for all thy goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all men.
We bless thee for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for thine inestimable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we beseech thee,
give us that due sense of all thy mercies,
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;
and that we show forth thy praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to thy service,
and by walking before thee
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
What thank you’s rock your soul?
Photo Credit : Gratisography