In previous editions of the Scribe, I have passed along thoughts drawn from Martin and Micah Marty’s wonderful book of photographs of churches and reflections on the search for spiritual sanctuary.
Once again I draw from it. In the hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, there is the verse:
What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest friend,
For this thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever,
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for thee.
Martin Marty reflects on this verse and writes,
The language of thanks is not natural. Speaking words of gratitude is learned behavior: “Say thanks, child!” The president of the United States has to proclaim Thanksgiving Day to an otherwise distracted and preoccupied nation.
The language of thanks to a savior who is called a friend is also not natural. We would rather rescue ourselves, without any help. Most counsel we receive urges that we should take control of our lives, assume mastery, and then dominate ourselves and situations. To thank savior, a friend, a rescuer, means to go beyond what is natural and to have to borrow a language.
Which one? Now the language of selfhelp manuals is unhelpful. How-to advice books will not show us how to be delivered into freedom. They leave us with only our own resources.
What language shall we borrow? Here the word of hope emerges with the word of thanks. We learn it from the one who, on the cross, still addressed the Father, who provides speech that lifts us from silence and despair to the sphere where love inexhaustible will fulfill our hopes.
Marty is right, I think. We must borrow the language of thanks because we do not like to admit that we need help, rescuing - that we need God’s help or anyone else’s for that matter. Then again, maybe it’s just that we feel we have little for which to be thankful.
If somehow we could borrow words of gratitude and speak them in our often desperately self-sufficient lives -- even when things are at their worst -- hope would be strengthened and renewed. What we are to give thanks for is not this thing or that, but God’s presence and help in all things. To do this is to discover the true source of hope, and that source is not ourselves. It is God’s love inexhaustible and the love of others.
Thanksgiving Day will soon be upon us. May we borrow the language of thanks and discover the hope that lifts and carries us through all things.
God be with you,