Hymnus Deo

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Eucharistic Doxological Life

"Our children live in the city, and they rest upon our shoulders;
They never want this rain to fall or the weather to get colder."
- Nanci Griffith

"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…"
- Romans 1:21

Spring is upon us here in North Carolina, and my annual dreams of a huge snowfall are gradually proving to be met again with an annual failure to come true. But one can hardly complain about Spring. The dogwoods are blooming, the days are growing longer, and the temperatures during the day are hovering in that perfect seventy-to-eighty range that makes it safe for even weathermen to leave their houses during the day.

As a salesman, I am forced to participate in a lot of "small talk". I dread it ferociously. I hear more wasted words used by the general public than I would have thought possible if I didn't have this kind of job. I try to limit my speech because, well, I don't have a lot to say most of the time, and most of what people want to talk about is frivolous if not ungodly. But I try to be friendly in my own way and endure whatever silliness I might encounter.

Much small talk centers around the weather. In fact, one can predict the sorts of things he'll hear people say based on the weather. For instance, weather comments are usually the first things to come out of a customer's mouth when they walk in the door. This is logical, of course, since they just walked in "out of the weather". It seems most people feel as if it is a little bit awkward to talk about the weather if they've been in the store for a few minutes. It's almost as if it's a regression, as if they were in that "world" earlier (before they came inside), and they are now in another "world", the world where weather doesn't exist.

People's moods and speech are incredibly shaped by the weather. If it's a sunny day with mild temperatures, people will praise the weather. Most comments about the weather, however, come in the form of complaints. If it's especially windy, people complain about the wind. If it's just cloudy, people don't usually say anything, but are noticeably more grumblesome. If it's snowing, people like it for about a day, but then start complaining about it. If it's raining, people will complain about the rain, no matter how much of a drought we are experiencing or what restrictions the city has placed on their water usage. And if it's about 85 degrees or above, people will complain that it's too hot.

Of course, my clientèle are almost all of a certain variety (middle and upper class women), and this probably has something to do with it. This doesn't do much to eliminate my surprise each time the complaining begins. Besides, men complain too. Women just talk more. (If this offends you, you'll get over it. The truth usually offends someone.)

Our Lord Jesus said that it is our heavenly Father who "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). It is mainly this passage from which Reformed theologians have historically drawn the doctrine of "common grace". While there is a type of love or grace that God shows to his elect only ("special grace" or "particular grace"), there is a type of love or grace that God gives to all men indiscriminately, which is called "common grace". Part of the point here is that everything that a person receives comes from God, whether they recognize it or not.

But how we typically interpret this passage is telling. The passage entwines two pairs of contrasting elements – the just and the unjust, and the sun and the rain. It is a tendency of the modern American mind to take one of the main characteristics of the first pair (good versus evil) and apply it to the second – sun is good, rain is evil. You might already be thinking of any number of pop song lyrics that confirm this ("raindrops keep fallin' on my head" immediately comes to mind).

If we lived in an agrarian society, however, as much of the world still does, we would read this passage differently. Without rain, crops don't grow, nobody eats, and people die. With too much sun, plants wither, nobody eats, and people die. But with too much rain, crops are flooded, and plants are washed away. Without sunshine, plants don't produce fruit, and once again, nobody eats and people die.

But most of us live in a different environment from the origins of the food we eat. Instead, we go work for somebody other than ourselves, and take the money we make to a place with fluorescent lights and air conditioning where we fill our baskets with objects (food so-called) neatly wrapped in cardboard and plastic. And one of the things we've lost in the development of this culture-wide practice is a recognition of all the hard work that goes into the production of what we eat. While this doesn't justify the complaining, it is understandable that one can easily forget the benefits of the changing weather.

Complaining is chiefly a sign of ingratitude. Most people don't even recognize that they have anyone to be grateful to. They might thank their parents for some things, or teachers, or even religious leaders. Nowadays I even hear people speak as often about trusting in themselves as they do about being thankful for benefits received from other people. But it is God who "richly provides us with everything to enjoy" (I Timothy 6:17). And everything one receives comes from God, no matter what the secondary source may be. Scripture tells us that this is one of the key failures of mankind throughout the history of the world:

18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21)

All sin comes from one source, Paul tells us. God has made himself known in the creation and mankind has rejected Him. This rejection has first of all manifested itself in a refusal to honor (that is, glorify) and give thanks to God. The passage goes on to describe the descent of mankind further and further into sin.

There are a couple of things worth pointing out here. Whenever sin is addressed, whether in church, family, or the broader society, so often we run to derivative sins – hatred, lying, abortion, homosexuality, whatever. But Paul tells us there is a deeper sin at root – a failure to glorify and give thanks to God. All other sins are derivative of this.

Also, taking this negative and putting it into the positive should give us some idea of what God desires of those who would serve him. He would first of all desire that we glorify him and give him thanks. This should be the chief characteristic of the life of the child of God. Father Alexander Schmemann called this the eucharistic doxological life – "eucharistos" being the Greek word for "thanksgiving", and "doxa" being the Greek word for "glory". All that we do, say, or think should be done with an attitude of giving thanks and glory to God. But, more centrally, this means that God calls us to worship him in a deliberate fashion. Man is not, as Fr. Schmemann also said, homo sapiens (man the wise), but rather homo adorans (man the worshipper). We were created for worship primarily, and every other work of man flows out from that. Scripture especially calls us to worship him in the context of the local church. We are to give thanks and to glorify God in corporate worship first. The church has historically recognized this, as the liturgical use of the words "doxology" and "eucharistic" shows. Corporate worship shapes private and family worship, as well as our general conduct in the world. And by living righteously in these areas, we demonstrate to the world "from Whom all blessings flow".

So I will try not to complain about the small talk. I'll even try to not complain about the snowfall we didn't get. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God" (Deut. 29:29), and for some reason unknown to me He's decided that I didn't need a big snowfall. He has given me everything I need and more, and for these things I will glorify Him and give Him thanks.