Sometimes, I find it hard to be blessed. In part, this may be due to becoming used to difficult times, or to the sense it’s so easy to fall into, reading too much news or too many campaign emails, that good things come only at the expense of those less fortunate – which may be to an extent true of material goods,but is certainly not true of love, or grace. But I suspect there is more to it than that.
We have become self-conscious about religion in our lifetime, unless we are fundamentalists using it as a political tool to lambast our opponents. The Psalmists among the ancient Hebrews had no such qualms. The Psalms of lament are unashamedly maudlin, the Psalms of praise call for trumpets and stringed instruments, tambourine, dance and loud clashing cymbals… And the Psalms of thanksgiving… Where could we find today such open-hearted gratitude as in Psalm 138?
I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down towards your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;
for you have exalted your name and your word
On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he perceives from far away.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures for ever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
We progressive Christians, whether unprogrammed Quakers or liberal Anglicans, have so much to be grateful for in each other – our openness to change, our willingness to “stress… fairness, justice, responsibility, and compassion, and [to] condemn… the forms of governance that wage unjust war, rely on corruption for continued power, deprive the poor of facilities, or exclude particular racial or sexual groups from fair participation in national liberties.” (Wikipedia) But we have somehow forgotten in many ways how to rejoice – and I think rejoicing is part of our calling as people of God, and especially as people who gladly recognise that of God in our fellow creatures.
Our corporate worship here empowers the personal, and the personal informs the corporate; and as Quakers in the unprogrammed tradition this can present problems! Do we have some kind of responsibility here for ministry? Of course true ministry is an act of the Spirit through the individual worshipper, and not a matter for personal determination – as John Churchman said (QFP 2.61), “Ministry should be of necessity, and not of choice…” And yet, how often do Friends, touched in the silence by some spring of joy, some deep current of upwelling gratefulness, fail to give vocal ministry because of some self-consciousness, some thought that what has touched us has not the weight, the gravitas maybe, needed to break into speech. I know I have; and perhaps I should not…