A dear friend of mine phoned earlier this evening. She refers to herself as my “spiritual mother” and I very much believe it. She’s in her late 80′s, and is simply beautiful. I describe her as a piece of pure light wrapped in a tiny piece of increasingly frail human flesh.
We connected about a year and a half ago. She had been reading my newspaper columns in the Denton Record Chronicle and phoned to talk with me and see if perhaps the church I serve would be able to embrace her and her unique understanding of Christian spirituality. I assured her she and her husband would be both welcomed and celebrated here. An immediate friendship sprang up between us.
This dear saint has practiced regular, focused prayer and meditation for decades, and the the lifelong habit of that spiritual discipline gives her powerful awareness of things many of us just can’t see.
I’ve been having a bit of a tough time recently over some personal issues. This has brought some sadness. That sadness has been coupled with an unusually hard hit for me this year with my lifelong struggle of coping with the shorter and darker days of fall as we approach the winter solstice. Simply put, I am more than a bit down.
A few minutes before she phoned me, the Spirit of God spoke to my friend and told her, “tomorrow, you will do a novena for Christy.” She called to let me know. Very simply, every hour on the hour for nine consecutive hours, she will stop everything she is doing and go to concentrated prayer for me.
The tears sprang to my eyes as I said a simple “Thank you.” This will be hard on her physically, and will interrupt some needed rest time, but I would not dream of suggesting she should not be obedient to God. It is a giant, huge, gift of love for me.
I already feel enfolded by it. It’s like nestling in fluffy down comforter on a crisp night, sleeping with an open window or even outside, but knowing warmth holds me.
“Joshua, can you say, ‘Thank you?’” I wonder how many times I said this to my 16 month old grandson on my recent visit to Montreal. His parents and I are all seeking to instill in him good manners and what we hope will be a deeply ingrained and almost automatic response when someone does something for him. Please and thank you. Por favor y gracias. S’il vous plaît et merci. Bitte und danke. Prego e grazie. In any language, they are beautiful words. For Joshua, whose mother is from South America and whose father, my son, is moving them to France in January, he needs to learn these words in at least three languages if he is to employ this basic social skill in his many different environments.
We ask our children to use these words even when they don’t feel particularly grateful and have no particular desire to exercise social graces. Why? I think that because the very vocalization of the words can dramatically influence how we are experiencing life around us. Using the words, “thank you,” when someone gives us something, be it a gift or a compliment or the grace of a forgiving heart and spirit means that we really do receive the gift. Saying “Thank you” acknowledges the giver and the gift offered. It also indicates that the receiver is aware that a gift has come and has been actually taken to heart.
Sometimes I wonder if we give less then whole-hearted “thank you’s” because we fear a hidden agenda on the part of the giver. Or because we don’t want to be on the receiving end, sometimes the less-powerful role in interpersonal relationships. Or we don’t want to be in some way obligated to the giver.
Gifts freely given, of course, should not obligate the receiver. In human interaction, however, it does seem that many gifts are given with a lot of strings attached. When those strings are yanked, a lot of emotional pain can roll out.
The Gospel of Luke tells a story about Jesus healing ten lepers, but only one returning to say, “Thank you.” Why only one? Jesus asks that—what happened to the other nine? To be a leper in first century life meant living on the extreme ragged edge of society. It meant being untouched and untouchable. Imagine a life with no hugs, kisses, handshakes, friendly smiles of welcome. Consider what it would be like to be shunned from every gathering, to be continually hungry, begging for your very existence. So healing meant a full re-entrance into community life. It meant welcome and family and corporate worship and celebration and a chance to work and contribute to the larger good.
So why only one? What really happens when we say, “Thank you?” I’d be interested in any ideas you have on the subject.