Gratitude

Illustration: A phrase from poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reads, “Glory be to God for dappled things” from his poem “Pied Beauty.” For the balance of the poem, the speaker describes finches’ wings, rose moles, skies of “couple-colour,” and the rainbow sheen of trout in water. The color, the arrangement, the intricate detail, the beautiful creations we may behold if we pause to look. It is as if the Creator speaks through his creation, saying, “Look; taste and see. These things are good.”

Segue: Yesterday I had another funeral for one of our fellow veterans. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War/Conflict. I talked with his family for quite some time prior to the honors ceremony. Nephews and nieces of the deceased recounted the veteran’s service in Vietnam to me, the Bronze Star he received, and of the way he volunteered for Vietnam rather than waiting to be drafted. Not only did he volunteer but he enlisted, even after he had graduated from college. Before I could ask the family why they thought he had done that, the nephew and niece said, “He was just that kind of man, Chaplain. He was grateful for the nation. He wasn’t a complainer. He was a contributor.” Then they paused, looking at me. Did they want me to respond? I looked at them and remained silent. “He never spoke about Vietnam, Chaplain, after he returned. But he was proud of his service. He was a grateful man.”

As I crossed the lake yesterday en route to Georgia National Cemetery, I had Hopkins’ poem in my mind: “Glory be to God for dappled things.” Just 30 minutes later, I was speaking with families of veterans. And I listened to them talk of their loved one. And I presided as the chaplain for yet another military funeral honors, while our excellent Soldiers and NCOs played “Taps” and folded the flag and handed it to me, and I then presented it to the veteran’s wife, as she patted her face with her son’s handkerchief, and tried to restrain more of her tears. I approached her and knelt and presented: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s faithful and honorable service.” Then I rendered my salute.

I’ve done it hundreds of times. But it moves me each time. I think it’s because when you speak with folks and their facades are removed, you may find that there are still good men and women about, those who are grateful, those who understand gratitude makes sense because of the One who created all beauty.

Encouragement: If you take your worldview from mainstream media, you will likely be bitter and resentful. You may find yourself stirring up controversy where there need not be any. Why? Because most media thrive on whipping up emotion, on “Us vs. Them” paradigms.

But for the Christian, he understands what Hopkins understood, and what the Vietnam veteran and his family understood. Thanklessness/ingratitude is an ugly thing. Remember Lear’s line in the play that bears his name? “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is [t]o have a thankless child,” (King Lear,1.4.295-96).

 Striking beauty surrounds us but we must pay attention. The Christian, unlike the pagan, understands that good things exist because of the good Creator. This is not a random, accidental, happenstance world. It is the creation of Creator God. We should be grateful because there is a personal God to whom we are accountable and before whom we should be grateful—for the “dappled things,” as Hopkins wrote, and for the wisps of clouds above a glassy lake, and for the vets who served with honor, etc. You see, the creation attests to its Creator. We creatures are to see that, and to draw near. As David wrote in one of his poems in the Bible, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).  

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