Grumbling to Gratitude

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church,  March 19, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.

What kind of a traveller are you? Are you rattled when plans change? Do you look forward to the unknowns that lie before you? Are you good at adapting or do you relegate yourself to the voice of the grumbler? Of course, these questions apply not only to holidays, but also to life’s journey.

Moses had his hands full. He was leading his people through the desert wilderness, but he wasn’t sure where they were going. God was the real leader, but it was often difficult to see which way God was pointing.  They ran out of food; they ran out of water. And the people began to complain that it was better to have been a slave and live than to be free and die. They had a point. The people began to complain, “Is God among us or not?”

When we are shaken by something unexpected, it is difficult to know where God is in the midst of it. Our defences go up and our ability to remain open to the Spirit and to the wisdom of others decreases. We are subsumed by our pain or grief or fear or guilt or anger. At a time when we most need the assurance of God’s presence, we are least able to sense it. “Is God among us or not?”

Even when little things go wrong, our frustration robs us of God’s peace. But there are some in our midst who have an amazing ability to go with the flow, to accept what seems unbearable, to find God’s strength and courage. Certain personality types are better adept than others—mine’s not one of them!  Time does help all of us adapt and heal. But we can also prepare ourselves through meditation and prayer to let God’s love flow through us even in difficult circumstances.

There is a form of martial arts called Aikido, based on a philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. It employs the attacker’s own energy and force in order to both defend oneself and protect the attacker from injury. Instead of putting up our shields and resisting life’s curve balls, Aikido suggests that we can harness the energy of these curve balls to help us find a new way through.

That, to me, is one of the purposes of prayer. It is a spiritual practice of bringing down our defensive shields and opening ourselves to whatever situation lies before us. This opening invites God’s presence and guidance into the midst of our chaos or frustration.  But it is not easy, even when things are going well. That’s why it takes daily practice to develop our spiritual disciplines of prayer and meditation.

This spiritual practice is not only for individuals. Our community of faith can also learn from the principle of Aikido. It requires discernment of energy—even what appears to be negative energy. Through God’s wisdom and grace, we can work with whatever situation lies before us and transform it into a path of hope. Grumbles will turn to gratitude and we will say, “Surely God’s presence is in this place.”