An ‘esoteric’ relationship with God

March 18, 2017 GMT

Giving thanks. It’s not only the theme of a major American holiday, but also a major principle in every world religion.

As a person of the Christian faith, the biblical story of giving thanks that has always mesmerized me is the story of “The Ten Lepers.” Jesus heals all ten of them. But it is one and only one who returns to Jesus to say, “Thank you.”

Alanis Morissette has a “thank you” song with lyrics I think are terrific. She sings:

Thank you disillusionment!

Thank you frailty!

Thank you consequence!

I don’t look forward to disillusionment, frailty or consequence. But I believe they truly have their place. In my experience those things can produce great personal, social and spiritual growth.

I remember when I was in divinity school, studying to be a minister, there was a popular television commercial for Coke where one person, and then a host of people, would sing “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.” What an ambitious goal! Imagine the whole world singing in “perfect” harmony!

I enjoyed that commercial when it came on. Amidst the heavy theology books, I thought that commercial had a pop- culture way of capturing hope for the future.

Now I can barely carry a note. But in my own way, I thought, my call to ordained ministry was, so to speak, to help teach the world to sing. And yes, in harmony!

Then came my first appointment as a minister of a church. What I walked into was a bunch of divisions between several church leaders, a shortage of funding and a crumbling building. For a young starry-eyed minister, it was not what I had expected.

It seemed so far, far away from that heart-racing call to help “teach the world to sing.” Or in the words of Alanis Morissette, it was quite the “disillusionment.” But a decision was made to work to identify the wounds, heal the wounds and get beyond them to start a new chapter in good ministry.

Within 12 months, all members who had dropped out came back and dozens of new members joined the church. There were babies getting baptized! Youth getting confirmed! We raised sufficient funds to support the church and community services! Plus, we had a capital campaign to restore the entire exterior of the church.

That experience not only helped the church, but it also helped in my own spiritual journey.

It helped me to “break through the disillusionment,” the idea that being a minister in a church was always going to be a glorious journey. The experience gave me a new sense of self and a better understanding of the complexities of people, even “church people.”

I like to see God’s spirit at work in sunny days, in pretty flowers and good quotes. But I also deeply believe God is there in the complicated times and in the chaotic messes.

I believe God smiles for all who will indeed have a Happy Thanksgiving by all the obvious standards of happiness. But I also believe God is with us when there is an “empty chair” at the thanksgiving table or any kind of emptiness in our lives.

The lepers that Christ healed were people who had lost parts of their bodies, a little at a time: a finger, a nose, a toe. How awful it must have felt after each loss. It is ever amazing that nine out of ten people did not have the manners or decency to be thankful for their healing and new life.

Yet one person did.

Sometimes one person is all it takes to keep a good message going. For people who share our joys and also for people who help us to break through our disillusionments, O God, I am very thankful.

Leopold is executive director of the Danbury-based Association of Religious Communities.