Thanksgiving is a discipline. It doesn’t come naturally. We have to teach our children to say thank you in acknowledgment of the contributions of others. Even then, a verbal acknowledgment is no guarantee of heartfelt thanks. And this is not an issue only for the young among us. In a culture that drives us to always amass more, to upgrade to the latest model, to keep up with the Joneses, being thankful can be a challenge. After all, if our eyes are always on the lookout for the next “big thing,” they aren’t focused on the many blessings that we already have.
The above observations are put on vivid display by one of the great ironies of our culture: Thanksgiving Day, a day set aside for remembering and giving thanks for our blessings, is followed closely by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both of which are days set aside for insatiable consumption. No sooner have we heard the call to count our blessings than we hear the call to take advantage of “great deals” to amass more. It seems that our culture believes that giving thanks and wanting more go hand in hand, but can this really be the case? Can we really focus on both at once?
I suspect that we can’t. Giving thanks is a matter of remembrance and gratitude, while consumption is so often a matter of forgetfulness and discontent. Yet we allow days of consumption to invade our day of thanks, driving us away from the very purpose of Thanksgiving!
Am I arguing that we boycott Black Friday and Cyber Monday? No. I’m just pointing out one glaring irony that is probably representative of many more of the same in our lives. The point is not that we fool ourselves on Thanksgiving Day, though many of us certainly do. The point is that we fool ourselves about thanksgiving all of the time. Thanksgiving is a discipline, and perhaps especially so in our North American context.
So this Thanksgiving, let’s practice a discipline that we should adopt all year round. Let’s enter into the discipline of giving thanks. Let’s take a moment to refocus our eyes toward the blessings that we enjoy. Let’s notice our material blessings. Let’s notice the relationships that we treasure dearly. Let’s take note of the spiritual treasures that we possess in Jesus Christ. Let’s take a moment to see, to truly see, and then offer thanks – first to our good God and then to the people who are such blessings in our lives.
Since moving to Durham, I have adopted the habit of making a weekly trip to Duke Chapel. If you’ve been there, you know that it is an awesome structure. A massive, cross-shaped room rises dizzyingly into the air, walls of grey interrupted by the bright colors of stained glass. As you enter, you can’t help but look up, and the place evokes a sacred feeling that demands silence or at most whispers if speaking is a must. Most weekdays between 12:30 and 1:30pm the sounds of the organ can be heard reverberating off the walls. Majestic sound teams with majestic sight to create a majestic effect. The Chapel has become for me a place of centering and calm, a place of reflection and rest. It has become a place of prayer.
As I reflect on my experience at Duke Chapel, it strikes me that such places can be of help in our spiritual journeys. They serve as centering forces in our lives that draw our attention to God and call us to reflection and prayer. At this point in my own life, a majestic chapel fills this role, but a grand place of worship is not a necessity. In fact, we can find many such places if we seek them intentionally. A front porch swing can become a chapel in the warm months of the year. A recliner close to the coffee pot can become a chapel in the early hours of the morning. A walk in the community garden or park can become a chapel experience for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Even jogging, an activity that is by-and-large unknown to me, can become a chapel experience to the initiated. The point is not the place or activity so much as it is the intention that we bring to these things; an intention to unplug for a few moments and to become present to God and his creation in a different way. In these moments, we allow ourselves to be reminded of God and of ourselves. In these moments, we allow ourselves to gain perspective and to see things with fresh eyes.
Of course, things don’t always play out so neatly. At times, these “chapels” can feel void and leave us frustrated. At times, we wonder why we make the time. But there are also moments when God speaks, sometimes powerfully and sometimes in a still, small voice, and these moments keep us coming back. And when we think about it, maybe those “void” moments aren’t so bad. In those moments we learn what it is to wait on the Lord. In those moments we learn that God is free and is not at our beck and call. And in those moments we find that intentional chapel times form a rhythm of life that God uses to shape us. After all, we’re in this for the long haul of regular life and not just for “mountaintop experiences.” In all of this, our chapels, whatever and whenever they may be, serve to remind us of a great God and ground us in his call.
I wonder if you’ve found a chapel in your own experience. If so, have you been there lately?
Let us all wait on the Lord who transforms us.