I take for my text the oft quoted words of E.B. White:
“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I awake in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
Point number one: Bewilderment is part of the human condition. This, I believe, is one of the enduring truths that may be approached by meditating on our text. Bewilderment is not only a result of events that take place around us which, either because of their horror or inanity, defy all attempts at rational understanding. Nor is it a function only of the haze that descends on (mostly older) people who can’t keep up with the latest technological advances. The writer implies that those who see the world only one way or the other, as seductive or in need of improvement, have not yet achieved insight. The world he encounters, and encourages us to encounter, is both in equal measure, and to paraphrase a bumper sticker, if you are not bewildered, you are not paying attention. For the wise, bewilderment awaits when we wake to the world each day. Those of us who are retired sometimes have a shorter route to bewilderment, since our days mostly do not have the illusion of having been planned for us by others. But for those who have eyes to see, it is there for all of us. I wish everyone a daily experience of blessed bewilderment.
Point number two: Our text has an alternate reading. Some versions render the third sentence this way: “But I awake in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world.” I like this version better, not so much the saving part but the savoring part. It suits my present purpose better, so I will treat it as authoritative until it no longer suits my purposes so well.
We are approaching the season of Thanksgiving. There is a hymn, popular once upon a time in certain church circles and often sung around Thanksgiving. It is called “Count Your Blessings” and the refrain admonishes us to, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.” I realize there is a certain homespun wisdom to this advice. It is probably a good idea to focus on the positives in our lives as opposed to letting complaints take control. It is probably good to be specific about the things we appreciate. It is a way of being mindful about them. That said, I have never been a big fan of “counting your blessings.” The very idea of quantifiable blessings rubs me the wrong way. Does it imply a certain tendency toward keeping score? Does it imply that blessings and troubles are entirely separate from each other and easily distinguishable? Does it imply a certain judgment on people who at this point in their lives are dwelling in a dark place, and for whom counting blessings has little meaning? Not to mention the questionable theology implied in the phrase, “see what God has done.’
There is a different feel, somehow, to the notion of savoring the world, as our text suggests. Granted that for some of us at some times in our lives it may be just as difficult to savor the world as it would be to count up one’s blessings. Still, to cultivate an ability to savor the world seems a more authentic way to give thanks than the counting of blessings. In any case, sisters and brothers, I offer that thought for your consideration and wish for us all a savoring of the world, the whole of it, not just the countable and comfortable pieces of it.
Point three: It would be best if we didn’t view saving the world and savoring the world, or improving the world and enjoying the world, as two different activities competing for our time and attention. It would be best if they went together. It would be best if savoring the world were a precondition for even our most modest efforts to improve the world. And it might save us from the notion that the world needs saving, or saviors, though it could certainly use some savoring improvement.
But I have done more preaching than I intended, so let me quit and close by simply wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.
Jim Bundy, the author of an historical study, and a collection of sermons, is a retired minister living in Charlottesville, VA.Share this post with your friends.