How many symbols will you see, without seeing them, today? It’s a natural phenomenon, when on familiar territory, to establish one’s destination, then just go there, oblivious to all the things passed along the way (ie. because fast food joints are not on my radar, if someone were to ask me where to find a particular one, I would most likely not be able to locate one in the otherwise occupied file system in my brain. However, were they to ask for an ice cream shop, I would have the address list handy, with suggestions as to the best flavors at each one). We are often so pre-occupied with an overflowing plateful of people, plans, and places that the immediate gets relegated to somewhere near seventh in line. So, for example, this evening, if you were to take pen and paper and attempt to write down all the symbols you noticed from your errand running, your reading material and various media sources, how many do you think you could list? I mean, symbols are everywhere! Every carmaker has one. Every business has one. Churches have them. Most organizations gave them. Schools, colleges and universities have them. Academia is awash in them – sciences, music, trades. Sports teams have them, along with a mascot. Countries have flags and anthems. There are state flags, birds, trees, flowers, and nicknames for all fifty US states. The smiling meteorologist on your local TV channel has a whole list of symbols for air current, weather systems, wind, etc. And, of course, emojis, emoticons, gifs and memes have increasingly replaced our usage of spelled-out words (and shockingly, for old people such as myself, computers have slain cursive writing! – this, plainly, as I type). As a patient in the hospital, in your room there is often a pain chart with symbols – from faces with great big smiles to faces scrunched up, screaming, howling, grimacing. It’s usually pretty easy to pick the corresponding face (you don’t want to have the latter). Certainly, the cross is a universal symbol. The reaction to it will vary depending on the viewer, but it points powerfully and unmistakably to Jesus, nonetheless. Some symbols evoke very strong emotional reactions. Seeing one’s national flag, after a long time away from home can bring a surge of joy, pride. For most, still today, the swastika is a dreaded emblem of hatred. There are symbols of all kinds, many of which are of little or no interest to us.
We are wrapping up our three-week exercise of focusing on gratitude, heading as we are, here in the US, to the biggest family celebration of the year, Thanksgiving. I’d like us to take some time to distill the many, many memories in which we’ve been luxuriating, down into one, simple, poignant object which serves as a sweet reminder, a flashback, joy filler-upper. It can be anything at all. It just needs to be something that, when seen, can draw you into the sunshine of God’s constant, loving provision for you. And if it isn’t too intimate or personal, it would be great to have it at hand on Sunday, to show and share its significance with the rest of us. There’s no such thing as gratitude gluttony! No calories! No 40 extra pushups! No downside! No negative consequences! So, no stress, just enriching, lifegiving delight as you reminisce and daydream and have a good think. You know, I think this might be what John Piper meant by his scandalous term, “Christian Hedonism” in his important book, Desiring God (1986). Have fun! PD