The Way of Gratitude

| | Comments (1)

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

--Phil 4:8 (KJV)

You knew that in my extended reflections on Philippians, I would eventually come to this verse and I will. But today, I wanted to reflect a little on this verse because I believe that it is a way of gratitude, a way that will tutor us in how to approach the Lord. As The way of gratitude helps to pave the way of Joy.

Let's first note what this passage DOES NOT say. It doesn't say that we are to hide our heads in a hole in the ground and pretend ugly, evil, and terrible things do not exist. It does not imply that we should withdraw to an insular world of airy contemplation of lovely things and refuse to engage the real tragedies and difficulties present in the world. It does not say that we are to pretend that what is ugly is beautiful or that we are to put on some distorting spectacles that reinterpret all events in the lights of the good, true, beautiful and virtuous. As Christians, we are called to be the ultimate realists about the existence of both individual and corporate evils and we are called to try to demolish both.

However, what it does say, is that when we are seeing all of these things around us, we are not to let them become the center of attention. These things are distortions of the reality God wrought--these are signs of the fall and they are not the food for good meditation. They are not to be denied, but they are not to be central to our time with God. Paul was in prison (actually confined to house arrest in Rome) while writing this letter, and while he acknowledges that situation, he does not dwell upon it. Rather his whole letter dwells upon the faith and the love of the people of Philippi. The joy of the letter comes from the contemplation of the faithfulness of a community. In the letter itself, Paul spells out the meaning and the practice of this piece of advice.

There are probably a great many reasons for thinking about the things that Paul suggests. It would seem that they would feed all three of the theological virtues--faith, hope, and charity. But one of the reasons that comes to my mind is that when I think about these things, there is a natural inclination to humility and its consequent expression gratitude. When I see the beautiful--either the work of human hands or the natural world, I am moved. In some strange way I am called beyond myself and caused to realize, not in a negative way, but in a way charged with grace, how small and inconsequential I am in comparison to all of this. And further reflection would show me how small this is compared to all of these wonderful things. And how small all of these wonderful things are compared to the Maker of wonderful things.

Reflection on the good, the true, and the beautiful is one road to personal realism and humility. I can begin to see myself as very small and yet intensely loved. All of this Universe of beauty and truth was made to be enjoyed and appreciated by the one part of creation (we presently know about) capable of doing so. So far as we know, Dolphins do not contemplate great beauty, nor do worms, nor birds, nor trees, nor fish. Only humanity has this ability to see beyond the immediate circumstances and to discern meaning.

Knowing who we are in the scheme of things is a sovereign remedy to pride. We know who we are in all of creation and how small we are. Then add to that the knowledge that God Himself came and lived and died that we should be redeemed, and we understand that despite our smallness, we are greatly valued. In the right-ordered person, or even in the mostly-not-right-ordered person, the natural destination of such knowledge is intense, life-altering gratitude. God Himself entered my insignificance. God Himself loves me so much that He chooses to make a dwelling-place of my smallness. He fills the space and lights it as nothing else can.

This gratitude naturally begins to flow into deeper and deeper love of God and consequent joy in His presence regardless of our circumstances. It is not an overstatement to say that the purpose of the good, the true, the beautiful, the upright, the pure, and the virtuous are to lead us directly to the throne room of God. They are restorative and they are salutary to any spiritual life. It is important to understand that they are not the end in themselves, but the means to the One Thing Necessary. And as means they are meant to be pondered and to be enjoyed. They are goods that God has granted to transform us into beings more like Him. Eventually, with sufficient time and prayer, we are to become beings not just like Him, but of Him. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila refer to this divinization as "union with God." I think it's important to note the this divinization does not mean that we all become little Gods, but that we enter into the life of the Most Holy Trinity in a way that allows us our identity even while we become of the substance of God. In some way I do not presume to understand, we become the simple substance of God. Otherwise there would be no union. What is pure can not mix with what is blended in the spiritual world.

So, for those looking for joy, one good place to start is to see what is around you insofar as it is beautiful, true, and good. Ponder these things, not for themselves but for what they tell us about the God who made both them and us. Humility will blossom, and gratitude will be its natural outpouring. Do keep in mind that this is not the only way to humility, gratitude, or joy; however, it is a way that has worked for many over the centuries.

Bookmark and Share


Thank you. This selection is rich fare!



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 10, 2005 9:19 AM.

A Glimpse of Discernment was the previous entry in this blog.

Joy and Happiness is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll