News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Be still and give thanks

In the background of Monday's television image was chaos. Frantic parents ran into Huntsville Hospital to find their children, many injured and some killed in a hellish school bus wreck. Slightly out of focus, it was a blur of hysteria and pain and grief.

In the foreground was a pastor, talking to a reporter during a break from counseling students and parents. He was in focus and calm as he recounted the questions with which people had stabbed him in the hospital. Most of those questions boiled down to one: Why did God allow this to happen?

"I don't know the answer to that," he said softly to the reporter. "I don't think we can know the answer."

The one question they had, and he could not answer it.

But what we do know, he continued, is that God will provide comfort and healing, that he will calm the chaos.

Giving thanks is, at times, a grueling task. It requires a faith that a higher power is in control when everything seems to prove the contrary. As we watch others kill and maim our soldiers, as we watch cancer wrap our loved ones with pain, as we watch a school bus filled with our children hurtle off the Interstate, we must wonder.

Can the center hold? Is our world twisted off its axis, spinning in chaotic disorder? The random events of chaos merit no thanks.

Thanksgiving, a discipline, demands calm. It demands focus. Counting our blessings "one by one" requires that we be still. We cannot identify our blessings in the midst of the blurred chaos in the background, any more than we can count the blades of grass as we drive down the highway.

When we stop, in an effort to give thanks, a remarkable thing happens. We realize that it was not the universe spinning out of control; it was just us. It was our motion that created the blur of despair. God was, and is, steadfast.

And in our stillness, we can sometimes find one blessing. Just one at first, maybe, but then more. Like a painting by Seurat, once we focus on one dot, the other dots begin to come in focus. The unfocused image of misery has within it numerous dots worthy of thanks.

Spontaneous thanks triggered by unambiguous blessings are common. The brilliant panoply of color on the Tennessee River as the sun sets, the joy of a child's hug, the warmth of a spouse's embrace — each is a miracle we often recognize as it happens. But somehow, in the frenzy of pain that surrounds the Huntsville school bus crash, the sunset is a bit tarnished, the embraces a reminder of others' pain.

And that is why we need to give thanks.

The discipline of giving thanks pulls us back from chaos. It gives us focus and perspective.

Thankfully, my right leg does not hurt as much as my left one. Thankfully, my child, though rebellious, is healthy. Thankfully, my ex-spouse left me the dog. And for those devastated by tragedy — those, for example, who lost a loved one in a school bus accident — the thanksgiving that is somehow both the last resort and the primary: thanks for the eternal blessing of salvation.

The background image of despair and chaos at Huntsville Hospital had within it dots of blessing. We cannot understand the reason for the tragedy, but with effort we can identify the miracles that dot the canvas.

The art of detecting blessings has as its prerequisite, stillness.

Be still. Look around you. Expend the effort needed to see the dots of blessing that color your life.

And then give thanks.

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