Psalm 118 in the old version has this line: “This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it.” When it says “will,” it means to make an act of will to rejoice and be glad. In older English, the normal future tense used “shall” in the first person (I/we) to indicate future action; to say “we will” rather than “we shall” is to emphasize determination. (Confusingly, in second and third persons the usage was the opposite.)
So the Psalmist is saying, in effect, whatever day it is, God has made it. And by golly, whatever it is, we are going to rejoice and be glad in this day.
I wrote a couple of months ago about starting my Camino in snow. That was a shock, if nothing as bad as the early February snow in Dallas that shut down airports and buses and trains. This snow was no danger, but it was cold and we weren’t expecting it. Why should we join the Psalmist in rejoicing in the day, when the day is lousy?
The Camino teaches acceptance. The day has come and I must start walking, whether it is cold or hot, wet or dry, windy or still.
Wisdom is to begin with acceptance. Acceptance comes before critique or evaluation. Weather escapes our control, and it is a snapshot of how the whole thing is outside our control. Nature, society, the actions of people in society: all are in the first instance simply given to us, just there.
Existence is the principal action of the creator. God’s primary manifestation in the world is in the sheer existence of the world. He gives us the new day—to which wisdom replies, “we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
It is said that the first ethical task is to give thanks for our own existence. We may not like (for instance) our bodies (mine is too skinny). We may not like our political rulers. But before we do anything to try to improve things, we need first to give thanks that the things are there at all. After all, a person with cancer is first of all a person. And on the social level, bad government is still some sort of government, which is almost always better than no government at all.
Then things change. If we start by giving thanks even for the lousy days, we discover unexpected good things. Furthermore, in a surprising twist, it is thankful people who are able to make things better. But that’s another sermon for another day.
P.S. After I wrote this, I found a letter in the London Review of Books about the difference between “will” and “shall”: that “I shall” is simple indicative, stating what is going to happen, while “I will” is a strong statement of what is my intent. The writer went on to tell an old joke. A professor saw one of his students floundering in the water. The student was crying out: “I will drown, I will drown!”—and the professor, believing in free will, did nothing, interpreting the student’s cry as his determination to drown. I guess that while punctuation saves lives, bad grammar can lose them?
Out & About. God willing, I shall (!) preach at St. David of Wales in Denton, Texas, at 8 and 10:30 a.m. this Sunday, June 26.
My occasional reminder: I am available to visit parishes in the diocese of Dallas. I can offer talks on theological topics, teach classes, lead retreats, and so forth. These theological visits don’t have to be on Sundays, and they don’t have to be close to the city of Dallas. (One instance: Early on in my time here, I enjoyed a memorable evening at theology-on-tap in Texarkana.)
Already it seems that many people are reading A Post-Covid Catechesis, my new and short book on basic Christian teaching important for us in this post-pandemic period. The book has five chapters with discussion questions at the end of each. A group could use the book as the basis of a five-session class on creation, fall, God’s involvement, and Jesus as true human and true friend. If you’d would like, we could schedule for me to join one of the sessions.
To discuss a potential theological visit (which, of course, has no cost to a congregation beyond its diocesan assessment!), drop me a line: .