Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.Philippians 4:8.
Went to church on Thanksgiving morning. I got to be one of the lectors, my all-time favorite church job. Had the great pleasure of reading aloud those perfect-for-the-day words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
During sermon time, members of the congregation stood and said what we were thankful for.
Jane stood and said she was thankful for life. The goodness of life. She didn’t mention that her husband Bob and a beloved daughter-in-law had both died during the past year. But she was among friends; we knew those facts. They were with us, hovering behind and between her truthful words.
Mary stood and spoke about her beloved companion Ruff, who also died this past year. She told about praying with friends at the vet’s office during his last moments of life. Later in the service, Mary carried Ruff’s ashes with her up to communion.
I stood and said that, as the years go by, I grow more and more thankful for time. The way, over time, things look different, and that’s a good thing. I’m thankful that, as time passes, it seems to be possible to actually gain small bits of wisdom.
I happened to stand up after Jane and before Mary, but I didn’t mean my words to refer to either woman’s grief, or to how “time heals all wounds.” Wouldn’t presume, and not sure it works that way anyway. I was just talking about myself. That’s what we do, most of the time.
And when speaking of those small bits of wisdom that come with time, I didn’t mean to deny the wisdom of youth, to imply that the young are foolish and the old wise. The young have their own wisdom. We oldsters delude ourselves if we think that we can retain youth’s wisdom in its entirety, and just pack on more sagacity over time.
No, something of youth’s wisdom is lost across the passing years. A type of courage, maybe, that comes from having your whole life in front of you.
And yet, something is gained in time as well. Only now, looking back, can I see the good in it. Time brings the possibility of forgiveness, and the possibility of healing. Forgiveness for sins that, when committed, seemed unforgivable. Healing of wounds that, when inflicted, felt fatal.
Over time, life offers new possibilities. You move along the path, and your perspective changes. At certain moments, the way ahead broadens into a wide plain. More aspects of life comes into the fold of understanding.
You suffer more, and so come to a better understanding of the nature of suffering. And of its ubiquity. As a result, compassion grows.
Heroes fall before your eyes and turn into human beings. Villains weep in your presence and turn into human beings. So the fold enlarges, and enlarges again.
I’m thankful for time, for its breadth, and for the possibilities that lie all along its path — past, present, and future.
Dear God, help me open my arms and embrace this life I am given. Grant me the courage to examine the past with compassion, to live in the present with a whole heart, and to look ahead with hope. Amen.