BY PAUL STUMME-DIERS
Anne Lamott’s most recent literary offering is “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.” In reading her book, thus far through “help” and “thanks,” I find merit in her thesis and imagine its application in my own spirituality and that of our community.
Reading “Help, Thanks, Wow” during Thanksgiving week provided a helpful framework for gratitude: In prayerfully considering the world around us, we give voice to the needs, the yearnings, the cries for “help,” as we see a wounded creation. Our prayers include those whose “help” takes the shape of hunger and violence and homelessness.
In reflecting prayerfully on the needs, on the “help,” we come to realize more profoundly the beauty of God’s creation, its abundance, even its capacity for healing, which creates a space for “thanks.”
In this awareness, in this gratitude, we discover in ourselves and in our communities a deeper sense of compassion and generosity that often speaks to this need. We open our hearts, and our wallets, to give expression to this “thanks,” and we strive to address the ache.
We then pray the “Wow.”
As I indicated, I have not yet read Lamott’s “Wow.” In an Advent way, I am holding off on reading the “Wow” section until Christmas Day, after our 9 a.m. worship, at a time when preachers treat themselves to their own spiritual nourishment.
For now, I invite you to consider with me some of the progressions of “Help, Thanks, Wow” we have before us.
In Thanksgiving week, I saw it through five Bethany youth who ventured to the Compass Center in Seattle to prepare and serve dinner for 50 men who lack housing. The “help” was evident in the condition of those dining, and the “thanks” was etched on their faces as they shared a meal.
But perhaps a deeper well of prayerful “thanks” was seen in the youth themselves, as they shared a meal, as they served, as they recognized the privilege it is to give of themselves. They will be serving there again on Christmas Day. From this the “wow” inspires us to advocate for better human services and opportunities for such individuals, many who are veterans. If you want to encounter the “Wow,” just surround yourself with young people!
“Help, Thanks, Wow” describes the community of faith I am called to serve, Bethany Lutheran Church.
In 2013, we celebrate “100 Years New,” our centennial, as we weave together (with a physical loom!) our memories, including eight feisty Swedish women who informed their husbands that they, by God’s grace, would “Help” them start a Lutheran church on Bainbridge Island.
We will throughout the year give thanks for all that God has done and does, and we will continue to open ourselves to the “Wow!” that God has yet to unfold.
“Help, Thanks, Wow!” has taken a new shape since I first wrote this article, and so now we apply these prayerful essentials to a nation in grief.
In the shadow of Newtown and the violence wrought upon holy innocents at Sandy Hook School, in this dark midwinter, the “Help” is apparent in our hearts and in our communities. Ours is an ache, a yearning for peace and healing.
It feels premature to imagine gratitude, unless we squint and see the heroism of teachers (in Newtown and on Bainbridge), and their affection for their students. We might even muster the strength to give thanks for first responders and for those who respond with support and prayers.
But let us also have the courage and the faith to come to imagine the “Wow” of prayerfulness that calls us more deeply into being communities of compassion: a people who say “enough” to a culture of violence; who have the capacity to walk with the stigmatized; who say, with Jesus, that they are all God’s children. “Wow!”
In the Christian tradition, this season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is an occasion for prayer, for the “help” that cries out from those needing comfort and liberation; it is the “thanks” that comes with welcoming Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.
And, it is the “Wow” of the Prince of Peace residing in our midst.
This Christmas, let us enter into God’s “Wow!”
Paul Stumme-Diers is the pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church.