January 28, With my whole heart

With my whole heart

Psalm 111

Day by day, I do most of the things I do with a decent amount of intention and focus. Like you, as I make my way through the week, through the month, or through the season, I have patterns I follow and expectations for myself.

At work, I prepare worship and sermon themes in blocks of three months, rotating assignments of worship leaders and children’s story tellers. I send out the hymn information to the musicians 10 days ahead of the service. I work on my sermon through the week and (most weeks) by Thursday evening, I send out a draft of it to those who are participating in the worship service that coming Sunday.

On Sunday morning, I get up early enough to get myself in the right frame of mind and to take care of any minor changes. When I get here to church, I check in with the people here who I need to check in with. I pray with the choir. I start everything going for worship with announcements at 9:30 a.m.

There’s an order to the way I do things; a pattern.

At home, I follow patterns and try to stay focused on expectations as well: waking up kids at a certain time in the morning, doing laundry on a certain timetable throughout the week, paying bills, dealing with home maintenance, keeping the cars running, cutting the grass or raking the leaves or shoveling the snow – whatever the season calls for, sitting down at the table for dinnertime meals with the family, and so on.

The work things I do with a pretty high degree of attentiveness and thoughtfulness – especially in terms of thinking about scripture and sermon. The home things, I am probably a bit on auto-pilot sometimes. That is, until something doesn’t go the way it should go, or the way it usually does. And then suddenly I snap into sharper focus.

For example, the washing machine at our house stopped working a couple of weeks ago. Suddenly my auto-pilot laundry patterns were disrupted. I was reading the washing machine manual, I was diagnosing, I was watching YouTube fix-it videos, I was experimenting with how much I could work at this myself, and then when I decided it was somewhat beyond my capabilities, I was searching for repair assistance.

Meanwhile, I was acquainting myself with the local laundry mat – collecting my quarters, figuring out a different schedule for getting the laundry done, experimenting with the best times to go there (the least busy times).

I wasn’t exactly “into” my trouble, but by necessity, I was into it. Anything you want to know about Samsung washing machines and their design flaws, in particular, their weak stabilizer spring rods, or anything you are wondering about laundromat machines, and costs, and best times to go: just ask me. I’ve been enough “into” it that I have acquired a little bit of expertise! Oh, and anything you want to know about Sears Home Repair service and how they operate their business, their scheduling, and so forth – I’m quite knowledgeable about that as well!

You see, a disruption makes us a bit more aware of the ways in which we usually function – the assumptions, the patterns, the ruts even, of our daily or weekly life.

In the Psalm for this morning, Psalm 111, the writer talks about “giving thanks to the Lord” with his “whole heart.” That got me to thinking about the idea of whole-heartedness. And, it got me to wondering: How much of my living, day by day, is done with an attitude of whole-heartedness -- maybe that, versus how much of my living is done on auto-pilot, as I am lulled by a bit of the sleepiness of repetition and familiarity?

That’s why I gave the laundry example. At home, when the washer and dryer are working as they should, I can almost do the laundry in my sleep. But then when the washing machine won’t spin without going out of balance, and suddenly my regular patterns go out of balance too, I wake up to something. I wake up to the awareness that I was taking things for granted and I didn’t really know how or why they worked. And I wake up to new ways of doing things, that’s for sure. But I also just wake up.

I wake up to the ways in which my life is organized around convenience. I wake up to an awareness of my life of privilege – both in terms of the resources I have sitting in my house, but also the fact that I can pay to fix something without really giving it a second thought. I wake up to how much of my life consists of walking along without a real sense of wonder, or how many things I do with my hands, but not my heart.

All kinds of things can wake us up. Sometimes it’s tragedy, or deep personal loss. Sometimes it’s a simple change in routine. Sometimes it’s the realization that we are walking around among the trees and we have almost forgotten the forest.

Life is mostly routine, right? For better or worse, a lot of stuff is no big deal – nothing to get too upset about, but also not something to get too excited about. Gratitude is nice, we would probably agree, but it’s not a primary thing, not a prominent thread in the fabric of everyday life. More often, a grateful heart is something reserved for special occasions; whole-heartedness is something for more than the mundane.  

In the Psalms there’s a lot of gratitude language, and in particular a lot of the language of praise. When I read the Psalms, when I read the repeated praise-language, I sometimes think to myself: That’s fine, I guess, but doesn’t it seem like a bit much? Who, in the midst of the everyday, can keep up such an intense kind of praise?

I might even confess that I have sometimes wondered what the point is of praising God the way the Psalmists do and the way they seem to want us to join in. Does God really need our praise? Does God really need credit, or acknowledgment, or a big cheer? Probably not. God is fine without our approval, without our whole-hearted, full-throated praise.

But what about this: What about the possibility that we are not fine without some intentional and even intense encounters with the divine-mystery; that we are in need of addressing ourselves fully and intentionally toward some being, some presence which can receive our deep and heartfelt gratitude; that we need some opportunity to look up from the trees to see the forest, some moments of moving out of the regular routine, and finding (even in something that has inconvenienced us, perhaps) an avenue for awareness?

I move mostly through life in the patterns of routine, but the truth is, I need opportunities and pathways to move in the direction whole-heartedness – the wholeheartedness, the full-engagement, of praise and thanksgiving and wonder and compassion and delight. I need to have times when I am moved to wake up, and to lift my head up, and to see the immense sea of blessing upon which I am floating. I need to see -- even if it is just a glimpse -- of the perspective of eternity, and not just the minute or the hour or the day or the week through which I am working my way.

And when that happens – when I am awakened from my routine, my pattern, my assumptions, my ability to see only the trees instead of the forest – then I lift not only my head, but my heart. I lift it up and say ‘thank you’ – I say ‘thank you’ out into the universe, to God, to life; I say it for what has been, what is, and what is yet to come; for the miracles I have hardly been knowing much less acknowledging, for the blessings I have taken for granted, for the good things given to me and called forth from me, for company with those who share the same space and the same path and the same uncertainties and the same hope.

And if these things come to my awareness, and I find myself giving thanks, then the thanks I am giving is thanks to God, because the source of my life and my awareness and my urge toward gratitude is larger and deeper and more compelling and more mysterious and more gracious and amazing than me, since it is both in me and beyond me. That is, it is as distant as the stars and as close as my own heartbeat. My gratitude starts close and expands out, gratitude for all the grace and goodness and assurance and relief which fills my heart, and moves out into the universe. Thanks be to God!

Or to put it back into the words of the Psalm, in the Common English Translation: Praise the Lord! I thank the Lord with all my heart in the company of those who do right, in the congregation. The works of the Lord are magnificent; they are treasured by all who desire them. God’s deeds are majestic and glorious. God’s righteousness stands forever. God is famous for his wondrous works. The Lord is full of mercy and compassion.

Yes – thanks be to God.

The appliance repair man came to look at the washing machine this past Tuesday. After messing around for a week trying to figure out if I could fix it myself, I waited another two weeks for that appointment. He came and made a diagnosis, but he did not bring any parts, because of course the company doesn’t want every repair man driving around with a large inventory in the back of their van of machine parts that they might or might not use. It makes sense, I guess. But that means he has to order the parts, and then come back to do the actual repair. So, I found out, I have to wait another two weeks for the next available appointment to get the machine actually fixed. It didn’t help that at first he told me it would be a week until the next appointment, but then when he checked again, he amended that to two weeks.

I wasn’t happy about that. As he was running my credit card and putting all the information into his on-board computer in his van and I stood by his driver’s side window, I told him that. He looked uncomfortable, as people seem to do when I tell them I’m unhappy. (What’s up with that?) So, I relented. I said to him, “I’m not unhappy with you. I’m just unhappy.” He smiled then and said, “I can understand that.” I thanked him then before he drove off. Those were my final words to him: Thank you. 

Why? Because while I was unhappy to have to wait some more, I know what’s wrong and where things stand. I know I can wait and what to do while I’m waiting. I know that in the bigger picture – in the “forest” perspective – I have a lot for which to be thankful. I know that inconvenience is not the same as suffering. I realized after talking to him (it finally dawned on me) that if I set the washing machine to no spin, it won’t go out of balance. So, I can wash some clothes that way; I just have to wring them out by hand before I hang them up. I know all of those things and I know that even in this experience of minimal importance, because my routine has been disrupted, I have awakened to something which just passed me by before. And that’s mostly what I am thankful for: to be awake, to be alive, to be aware.

Sometimes you see on social media one of those gratitude challenges – maybe it’s something like making a list each day of the things for which you are grateful. If so, that’s a particular way to pay attention to appreciation. But you don’t need a list to do that. You really only need a good dose of awareness – maybe something to wake you up. And you need to realize that gratitude can live in just about any circumstance. To be aware, awake, alive, is to be invited to grace and gratitude, and maybe even to catch a glimpse of God.

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

As we prepare today to share in holy communion, I would invite you to approach the Lord’s table in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. Not because God needs whatever praise and thanksgiving you can bring, but because you need to bring your praise and thanksgiving. It’s part of being awake, alive. And there’s this as well: The gift in these moments of communion isn’t what you are bringing, it’s that you are invited to come.

And maybe you need this moment, this opportunity to become more awake and aware and alive. Maybe you need to see not only the trees but the forest; not only the routine, but the holy; not only pew you are in, but the whole company of sisters and brothers among which you sit. 

If so, then here is a moment, an opportunity for wholeheartedness: for the moment of awakening, to meet the recognition of blessing, to meet the intention of gratitude. This ritual of communion can help to make a space for us to acknowledge our need to give full voice and full heart to praise and wonder and hope. It invites us to the place of holy awareness and thanksgiving.

Something is happening in your life right now – some awakening. Are you ready to put your arms around it instead of pushing it aside? Open your whole heart; open yourself with praise and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God!

Amen.

 

Go out into the world, out into the week

with whole-hearted gratitude: awake, aware, alive.

Amen.

 

 

Kurt Borgmann

Manchester Church of the Brethren

January 28, 2018