December 5th, 2013
Just the sonorousness of his speech makes you grateful for the human voice. Brother David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk, born and educated in his native Austria.
Brother Rast gave the TED talk below recently that summarizes his life’s calling: to champion gratefulness.
As you’ll hear in the talk, he premises his case on the universal human desire for happiness. While conventional wisdom contends that our happiness is served by our pursuit of what makes us happy, Rast is one in a growing chorus of voices arguing that this “model” of happiness-seeking is too flimsy to support its objective, and furthermore not borne out by the evidence. Many who would seem to have the greatest reason to be happy are not; while many whose circumstances seem to almost preclude happiness amazingly find a way to live above their moment. What accounts for that paradox?
Rather than labor primarily to secure one’s happiness, Rast insists that true happiness lies in discovering (and re-discovering) how every given moment is precisely that: given. A gift–a gratuitous bestowal. Every moment contains privileges we can not, nor ever shall, take credit for: life, breath, provision, relationship, mercy. Furthermore, every moment possesses an “opportunity”–a word Rast repeatedly emphasizes–for not only enjoying what we are the beneficiaries of, but also for enacting what can benefit the world.
So as we become aware of the value of what is and what can be we find cause for the gratefulness that leads to happiness. For when–and this is central to Rast’s argument–we are the recipients of something both valuable and wholly free we can’t but be thankful.
To us then is given the task, Rast enjoins, to take note of whatever is valuable and free whenever we can–whether simple pleasures or grand extravagances. The world may conspire to obscure from our view all the reasons we have to be thankful. But all that really prevents us from pausing to see what should provoke our life-giving gratitude is our own decision. A new habit can and must be formed to observe the surrounding sweetness if we want to know an abiding contentment.
Brother Rast represents a stream of thought that believes the world’s faith traditions are all worthy of equal respect. He himself was authorized by his abbot back in the 1960s to enter into an interfaith dialogue. To his credit, any effort to clear away caricatures of differing faiths, or to squelch the acrimony that often arises between them is itself an admirable endeavor and fully consonant with Jesus’ call to love those who oppose you. (To be sure, though, Jesus made firm and unequivocal distinctions between what was and was not true of God.)
Yet, Rast’s own logic of the relationship between gratitude and happiness would seem to elevate what we celebrate at Advent as distinct from other views and traditions. For in Jesus God the Father freely gave what was most valuable to Him in order to provide what would be most valuable to us. Fully apprised of the dignity with which we’ve been invested (cf Psalm 8), of the tragic depths of our own corruption (cf. Romans 3), and of the immeasurable lengths God went to reclaim both the human heart and the world–these are the gifts given us. These are the gifts to which all other simpler gifts point, as C.S. Lewis argued in his essay we quoted last week.
So we may honor both Rast’s desire for all men to honor one another’s common humanity and the idea that the Gospel unites gratitude and happiness in singular fashion by appealing to Lewis again from his Mere Christianity,
“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through… When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I become a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view… As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others”
Advent gives us a name and a face to the Benefactor of all that’s valuable to us. But Advent also confirms the cost to God by which such mercies came, come, and will continue to.
We do well to take note of all the simple gifts saturating our every moment (have you ever just thought what a blessing it is to have garbage service and a sewage system ?). Do we not do better to give thanks–and live thankfully–for the Gift that circumscribes all others, outlives all others, and unites us to their Source in life-giving relationship–the One who gave no less than Himself?
The gratitude almost makes you want to sing.
So his week we’ll turn again to one of the Canticles of Advent, Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:57-80.
We said Jesus came to give us a song. This week we’ll see the song is about the salvation of God:
- the ground of His salvation
- the nature of His salvation
- and the point to His salvation
Speaking of gratitude, we couldn’t be more thankful–though not more than she herself–that Kyria has reached her support goals to be able to head to W Africa in February! Your prayers and support go with her. Here’s a quick note from our elder Richard Davis about the fund we organized for her this calendar year:
As most of you know, we made a decision this year, to provide support to Kyria Johnson using our designated Missions Fund. Kyria was (and still is) a part of our community for a year while training at SIL and GIAL. She is now working to raise her support to go to West Africa. In order to get onto the field, missionaries have significant up front expenses and so we decided earlier this year to give to Kyria all of the money in our restricted missions fund. Many of you have given generously to this fund. I am writing to inform all of you that the cutoff date for contributions to this fund will be Dec. 15. This will allow us to forward the money to her account before the end of the year. If you desire, you may contribute to this fund by simply designating missions or missions fund on your check.
Community quick hits:
- More books are in for our evangelism seminar in early February. They’ll be on sale for $5 in Fellowship Hall during 2nd hour this Sunday. Get yours and start reading.
The cold is coming so it’s time to bring the heat. Cornbread & Carols is this Sunday night from 6-8. Click here for details about what to bring.
- Those interested in coming for membership in CtK should save the date, January 10-11 (Fri-Sat) for our next membership class. A time to dig deeper into what membership means and how we plan to live out the vision of CtK. It’s also a time to ask questions about faith, community, and our leadership.
- And we’ll continue our drive for kids toys and winter clothes for every age this Sunday, to be shared with the shelter Wanda Williams serves. Look for the boxes in the foyer to place your donations. We’ll communicate the delivery time soon.
Finally, would you pray:
- for Don Johnson in the hospital for pneumonia, and his beloved Helen at his side
- for Rachel Kull for treatment for a heart condition
- for those who find this Advent season particularly difficult in the wake of mourning
- for our day of celebration on December 15th at the Service of Particularization
See you Sunday at 9:30,