I’m not a fan of winter. Let me just get that out there. Not one little bit. Not at all. Nope. Nuh uh. Just in case I’m not clear … I don’t like the cold, I don’t like the snow, I don’t like the icy conditions, I don’t like the extra time it takes to get dressed or the extra care I have to take when I’m walking somewhere. And the older I get, the less I like it.
A friend posted a meme on Facebook the other day. I’m sure many of you have seen it. It reads, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.” I posted a response which read, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will still have all the joy of complaining about all the snow. Never underestimate the joyful power of complaining lustily and mightily. After all, S.N.O.W. is an acronym for ‘Stuff No One Wants’.”
Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, I was outside the other day and stopped in the middle of what I was doing. I just stood there for a moment and marvelled at the absolute stillness and the crispness of the air. There was a wondrous beauty in the sheer whiteness and the icy brilliance of the light.
It reminded me of something C.S. Lewis wrote. You may know Lewis as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia.
In his small book “Reflections on the Psalms”, Lewis raises a question about why God commands the creatures and peoples of earth to praise him. He admits that when he first began to draw close to God, he found this command to be a stumbling block. After all, he notes, we normally “reject the person who expects praise and congratulations.”
What kind of God is this, who commands believers to praise? Is it because God’s ego is so weak that God constantly needs to be bolstered by praise? Is it because God wants to bargain with us, that God will grant whatever we ask if only we praise? Is something lacking in God which we can make up by our praise?
After pondering these questions, Lewis comes to a key insight: that the command to praise is not just so that God can receive something. It is, in fact, part of God’s self–giving. “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.”
When we praise, we deepen our enjoyment. I remember a time when my daughter was three or so. We were walking one evening, and she tugged my leg, saying “Daddy, Daddy, isn’t that beautiful?” I turned around and looked in awe at a gorgeous sunset, filling the sky with pink and lavender and orange and magenta. It was astounding, but our enjoyment was increased because we shared that moment.
Lewis writes, “We not only spontaneously praise what we value but instinctively urge others to join in our praise, rhetorically asking, “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?”
Lewis concludes that “praise actually completes the enjoyment … It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good she is; to come suddenly at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”
When the Psalms command us to praise God, God invites us enhance our enjoyment of God by expressing it in words and acts and emotions. We enrich our enjoyment of God in the same way as we do by sharing a favourite book or movie or moment with another person. That’s part of the reason why worship is such a significant act. In worship, we increase our enjoyment of God by giving voice to it with others who are like–minded and like–hearted.
So what does all of this have to do with gratitude at minus 20?
It serves to remind me once again that even in times which I don’t enjoy, there is goodness. Even in the midst of the cold and the complaining, I taste some of the goodness of God.
Equally importantly, I see again just how fortunate I am. I may complain about the extra clothing I have to put on … but the fact is that I have extra clothing to keep me warm. I have a car which helps me get around. I have a warm house to shelter me, and enough food to nourish me.
And as I express my gratitude, I also think again of those who are so much less fortunate than I am, and it moves me to take some extra time to give back from my abundance to help fill some of the emptiness in the lives of others.
God’s invitation to me to praise in such moments fills me with a sense of the abundance in my life. So, even at minus 20 … I am grateful.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook