Sunday, May 16, 2010

Water, Love, and Gratitude

At St. Stephen’s this morning, we had our United Thank Offering Ingathering, remembered Ascension Day with the Collect for Ascension, and connected with the Rogation Days in the homily and music. The lessons we used for all of this were simply the lessons for the Seventh Sunday of Easter; the theme of responding to God’s gifts with grateful hearts filled with love tied together the lessons and this set of occasions.
The lesson from Revelation includes this: “…[L]et everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Revelation 22:17) 

Water has been in the news recently. Without water we humans wouldn’t last long.  When we speak of the water of life, we’re talking about the spiritual gift of metaphorical water that’s as essential to us as is the water we drink and the water that sustains the other living things on whom we depend for survival. That the metaphor for Christ’s essential spiritual gift to us is water underscores the essential nature of non-metaphorical water for life on this planet. 

Water is essential, and an abundant supply of fresh, clean water is a wonderful gift in any community that can access it, but as we have been reminded the past couple of weeks, water can also be destructive and water can be poisoned. The record rainfalls in Tennessee caused the sort of destructive flooding that’s predicted to become more common as our climate continues to get warmer. Warm air holds more moisture; there’s a reason we talk about tropical downpours. And the oil gushing – not “leaking” as first reported, but gushing – into the Gulf of Mexico has polluted the waters off the American Gulf coast. This disaster will have long-term consequences for the entire Gulf Coast ecosystem, including the people.  There are some serious problems to tackle, and tackling these problems is made more difficult by the division, the lack of unity, that has become so pronounced in our culture in recent years.

But while there’s plenty of doom and gloom to consider, if that’s our only focus when we look at God’s creation, we will never find ourselves restored to good relationship with one another and with the rest of God’s creation. As in other areas of our lives, it’s essential to maintain grateful hearts. Caring for creation must go hand in hand with giving thanks for God’s creation. One reason the voice of the faith community must be heard in discussions about the environment is so that we remember the spiritual sustenance God offers us through the wonder of God’s creation, and so that we can encourage a shared ethos of gratitude for all of creation. If we aren’t in loving relationship with God, with one another, and with creation, we won’t be very successful in caring for ourselves or the world. We know that children raised in orphanages where they are kept fed and clean but where there’s no opportunity to bond with a caregiver don’t thrive in the way that children raised by loving caregivers do. It works the same way when we go out to serve others or to care for creation: if it’s done out of duty without grateful hearts filled with love, it won’t be the same.

There is news from the Gulf  today about “giant plumes” of oil beneath the surface, with the oil itself on the one hand, and the oxygen-depleting microbes that feed on the oil (and its dispersants) threatening marine life.  There is good news as well, that the most recent attempt to control or contain the oil seems to be working. That good news is tempered by this from Samantha Joye , one of the researchers looking at the underwater oil plumes: she says it could take “years or even decades” for the ecosystem to recover.

The news from the Gulf illustrates the spiritual challenge facing us as we come to understand more and more about the long-term effects of our neglect and abuse of the environment. How do we maintain a spirit of hope and gratitude when presented with the magnitude of the problem?  How do we keep ourselves spiritually whole and healthy?  I’m thinking that the simple practice of counting our blessings – consciously listing those things, no matter how small, for which we are grateful – is an important spiritual discipline for these times.  The same heart can hold gratitude for God’s gifts and concern for our world. In fact, being intentional about gratitude can open our hearts in a way that allows us to be more compassionate and more effective in the world.

Today we have a lovely, gentle rain in central Nebraska.  The grasses and trees are especially green, and the late spring wildflowers and garden perennials are beginning to bloom. We do have access to clean, fresh water in Nebraska. And along with all the gifts we can see in God’s creation, there are many people who are working and praying for the repair and healing of the damage we have done to our waters, air, and ecosystems. There is much for which to be thankful!

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