It is a truth universally acknowledged that we don’t truly appreciate what we have until we lose it or we are threatened with its loss. Why does it take drastic events to urge us to cherish something or someone?
I was reminded of this truth in recent weeks with the increased threats to our way of life as I learned of the Paris massacres. Suddenly the freedoms we take for granted in the Western world seem so precious, so precarious, so fragile that the wisp of a breeze could blow them away, never to be known again.
I am often reminded of this truth as I age, as time disappears and my future shrinks. Suddenly days, hours, minutes are beautiful, treasured. No two days are alike, no two hours, no two minutes. All time is glorious and beautiful. All time is full of life, God’s life in us, every one of us, regardless of age, race, creed, handicap.
I was reminded of this truth when a friend died. I miss her. Did I appreciate her enough when she was living? And later in the year a young man passed into Heaven, a boy who gave us great joy in church. The texture of the present has changed and become something it wasn’t before; their absence is felt.
So I give thanks more often for time given, friends and family given to me. I give thanks for a great-granddaughter born last spring and for the babies born in our parish this past year.
Freedom of speech and of religion remain precious rights, although precarious ones, and we exercised those freedoms in our church this morning. As I sang with the children “Advent Tells Us Christ is Near,” “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” and “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (all verses!) I cherished the time. Natalie, age five, was eager and adept. She knew how to twirl and how to growl like a beast and how to flap her wings. My thanksgivings turned into true happiness as we embarked on “Jesus Loves Me.” We rounded out our concert with a boisterous “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” By this time I was deep into abundant joy.
In a sense, the taking for granted of these freedoms is part of freedom itself, so that we create a way of life that slips by easily, one we don’t need to think about much. We assume we can elect our officials, choose our laws, select the patterns of life that will enhance our culture and encourage “peace on earth and goodwill among men.” And yet, suddenly, those assumptions are challenged by attacks on our Western world, its very culture of freedom. It appears we may have to fight for these rights if we want our children to grow up in a free society.
My college years landed in the sixties when patriotism was considered plebeian by the academic elite. Since then, civic education has nearly disappeared in our schools. But the beheadings last month, the Paris massacres, the many barbarian attacks on our civilization in the last few years, have prompted reconsideration of patriotism. There is another way to live with one another, a better way than this, we say, and perhaps we had better teach it to our children. Perhaps we had better fly the flag and make value judgments about our culture versus other cultures. Perhaps one purpose of public education is to create an educated electorate, a citizenry that understands how exceptional Western culture, a citizenry that speaks a common language and who flies a common flag, one that encourages uni-culturism over multi-culturism. Perhaps it is time to allow the peoples of our glorious nation to merge so that the melting pot forms a more perfect union.
So as we sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” I prayed for the world God holds in his hands. I prayed for our children and their time on this earth, that they would be ever free to clap, to sing, to speak, to dance. And I prayed that they would value that freedom enough to cherish it, to one day pass it on to the next generation in song and speech. For there will come a time when those of us who were shaken by the Paris killings, who mourned the Pakistani children massacred, who were horrified by the Nigerian kidnappings and the bombings, will one day travel home to God.
There will come a time when the children we are teaching in church and in school will need to remember just how fragile freedom really is, so that they can teach their children our heritage, our way of freedom and peace.