Thursday, August 25, 2011

Happiness Doubled by Wonder

Dipping my toes in the Jordan River
Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder 
                                                         - GK Chesterton

Some of you know that I have allergies almost year round. One of the side effects of this problem is a decreased sense of smell. During the really bad months I can go weeks without getting a whiff of anything. I can't smell my food when I eat. I can't smell my soap. I can't smell my freshly cleaned clothes. I can't smell a thing.

I often feel sorry for myself when I have particularly bad days or weeks and I generally vacillate between complaining to God, being angry at God and begging Him to take away my allergies.

The other day, I was caught off guard when I got a whiff of my coconut shampoo in the shower. I almost fell over with surprise and happiness. I spent the next couple hours smelling various delicious and not so ambrosial smells all over the convent. I must have looked like a bloodhound, with her nose to the ground, sniffing everything in sight. I was thrilled. I walked around smiling, enjoying my newly recovered sense of smell, as if for the first time.

During my prayer time in chapel that day, I gave thanks to God for the few moments of having my sense of smell back. I knew it would probably be gone the next day but I was filled with gratitude in that moment and I could not keep from overflowing in happiness, and expressing my thanks and praise to God for creating this amazing ability that most human beings are able to enjoy every day. As I was giving God thanks, I realized that I do not generally give Him thanks for my other senses of sight, taste, hearing or touch. These things I take for granted because I enjoy them every day. But it suddenly hit me that day in chapel, in a deep way, that everything in my life is miraculous not just my sense of smell - God deserves praise for it all.

As I thought about wrapping up my series of posts on the Holy Land, I realized that before I blog on my favorite spot of all, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I wanted to write one more post on the River Jordan. 

This site in the Holy Land was not the most spectacular thing we saw. After we left, a priest told me that he once owned a book with pictures of the Holy Land published by the Daughters of St. Paul and he always wondered why the picture of the Jordan River was so uninviting and sort of drab. "Now I understand," he said to me as we walked away. But despite the unimpressive view, the experience at the Jordan did make an impression on me.

Icon of John the Baptist
John the Baptist is one of my favorite figures in the Bible. He was an untamed man who embraced extremes. John was in love with God and in tune with his vocation, so much so that his zeal led him to endanger his life and speak out against one of the most powerful men of his day, Herod Antipas. But he does not seem to care; John was full of a fire that does not die down when faced with risk and danger. Even the man's icons look wild and disheveled. Suffice it to say, if I had been alive in John the Baptist's days, I would have followed this Jewish guy around. He was on fire.

Going to the Jordan river made me wonder though. Why did John pick this place to baptize rather than nearer to the city of Jerusalem where all the people were? That day at the river, Tim Gray pointed out to us that John baptized people in a baptism of repentance. Their baptism was symbolic of their inner desire to reform their lives. Real repentance does not come easy and it is not comfortable. So, John asked people to really show that they were repentant. He asked them to make a daylong walk out to the desert.

The people who made the trip to the Jordan must have been tired and hot when they arrived. But if they were anything like me at the end of a long hike, they probably also felt really grateful for the cool water that awaited them, for their soft beds that would be at the end of their journey and the good food they would eat when they arrived home. These feelings of gratitude upon realizing how much they were blessed must have made their hearts even more open to John's baptism of repentance.

How do we know if we are really repentant, like the people who made this long walk to be baptized by John?

My experience of regaining my sense of smell for a few hours made me realize that I cannot be truly repentant until I am truly grateful. Repentance for all that we have done wrong is good and necessary but it must be done in light of all that God has given us. If we do not repent while at the same giving thanks then our repentance is incomplete, because it is the generosity and love of God that makes our repentance necessary. It is not until we realize just how much God has given us that we can realize just how much we have failed to respond to His abundant love.

Think of a moment when you have been grateful to God for something. It might be a drink of cool water after time in the hot sun. It might be seeing a beautiful morning glory blooming in your garden. Or it may be eating a delicious bowl of peach cobbler with ice cream. For that moment, we are noticing just one small thing that God has given to us and we give thanks. But how often do we really give thanks to God for all that we have in our life?

If we took the time to thank Him for everything, like we thank Him every once in a while for these small things, we would spend every moment of the rest of our lives thanking Him.

Maybe that is not such a bad idea.

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