Agatha and I led our Sunday school class this week in an exercise about gratitude. We first talked through prayer types again: intercession, contrition, gratitude - then zeroed in on gratitude. Being the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the progression was organic.
To clarify, I am woefully unqualified to teach Sunday school. There are flaws in my religious views, holes in my 'wisdom' and practice.
I have problems with the literal nature of our curriculum. I greet Old Testament stories with skepticism. When teaching that Adam and Eve's Cain and Seth go on to populate the world... presumably with the help of "Mrs. Cain and Mrs. Seth-" I want to know who the women were. Where they came from.
In story after story here is violence and trickery and pettiness with catastrophic consequences - and often rewards. And God is very direct in His communications with the People.
I struggle with it - existing, as I do, in a world where God is far more vague - even in his omnipresence.
I am not good with prayers of intercession. I can't quite give myself over into believing the magic fairy dust element of it - the conceit that I get something, or something is all better, because I am a Good Christian, and I asked - fervently, with an open heart. I know too many better Christians with real problems - sickness, death, crisis, debt.
So I ask God to help give me more faith, or patience, or the ability to observe and find the Good in Bad. I ask for strength, for shoring up. And for more of that patience.
I do OK with penance. I can always admit to a screw-up. And I collect them. Though this Sunday, as we talked through this idea of prayer with the four kids that showed up, I tripped a little on "penance," stopped myself from giving a concrete example.
My son wasn't in class. He got left at home after an epic battle with me that resulted with him, in his room, while others went to church. The bad part was what came before, when I let him push all my buttons - and good robot that I am - I short-circuited in just the way intended. I spent time on penance after that one.
Contrition fuels itself, if you fancy yourself a prayer, and have a conscience.
I have my own religious tenets - things I hold myself to - that give me ample opportunity to fail in small ways, or to fail outright in larger ways.
My grandfather was a farmer. He worked hard, and he was quiet, and humble and Competent in all things. I never knew where he stood with Catholicism specifically, but he went to church every Sunday. He only went to communion when he had gone to confession. Twice a year, I believe. I could never imagine what Grandpa possibly had to confess. And I would try to imagine.
Away from the natural rhythms of the farm, my sins are many. In modern suburbia, there are no consequences for life sloppily lead - for laziness, for unpreparedness, for not reading the seasons or canning when the vegetables are fresh. This is the basis for my guilt, for the religion in my head, for the touchy relationship I have with God, for my awareness of how much I do wrong.
Things for which I kick myself regularly for my own hypocritical approach: I am sure that God would prefer I never stay inside on a sunny day, don't waste food, that I am active in my role as shepherd of the earth, avoid sinful meat not raised humanely, never scream at people smaller than me, don't fritter away time, maximize my gifts. Care for those who have less. Stay aware of injustice in the world. When I fail, I can't quite ask Grandpa to intercede on my behalf - because they are not mistakes he would have made.
And I willfully forget, sometimes, to seek absolution for these daily failings.
But gratitude...that one I can do.
My default is, generally, contentment. Hormone-laced-beef-eating, shouting, time-wasting contentment. I look around and I notice: I am well fed. I have a roof. I have beautiful, healthy, fascinating children. I genuinely love and enjoy my husband. I have extended family and far-flung friends and am estranged from no one. I have a car that runs, and two crazy cats. I can read and I can write. I catch my breath looking out at a great view or looking deeply into the intricacies of a single, perfect fall leaf. I know, intellectually, that from bad eventually comes good, and by strokes of luck in timing, geography and birth, no real bad has ever befallen me. And I am grateful for that, too. For the work of my grandfather that got us all to here.
And on Sunday, I sit in the pew and I try to keep children (those I bring) still and relatively engaged. I breathe deep and I tune in and out of the homily. I sing the hymns. And I give thanks. And I find, invariably, I have lots and lots of thanks to give. And this, in itself, is a blessing.