Path to wisdom begins with gratitude

| June 29, 2017 | 0 Comments

Chaplain (Maj.) Brian Koyn
Integrated Religious Support Office

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — In the summer of 1787, our fledgling nation’s representatives gathered in Philadelphia to work out some suitable national charter.


During the 11 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed (on July 4, 1776), the nation had experienced the dark days of failure during the early days of the revolution and the exhilaration of victory over Great Britain.

They saw the great hope of potential in the new republic followed by crisis and bitter political infighting. Hope was running out for the delegates as they bickered over every issue large and small. Could this be the untimely end to the American experiment?

As the convention seemed hopelessly deadlocked, the 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin took the floor. He began speaking in measured tones, recounting how the convention over the previous weeks looked to every historical precedent for wisdom in crafting a constitution. All examples, unfortunately, proved wanting and served only as “melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding.”

He instead called for a pause in deliberations to propose “humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings.” In this oft-quoted address he noted, “We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.’

“I firmly believe this,” he continued, “and I also believe that without his concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.

“And what is worse,” Franklin added, “mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.”

With these sentiments, he acknowledged that we ought to begin with gratitude to God for the provision of liberty. This liberty does not mean everything is as it should be, but rather, in the words of author Amy Tan, “In America, nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gave you.”

For that freedom, the founders roundly encouraged a thankfulness to God because we neither arrived here by chance nor by the superiority of human skill.

Gratitude, however, is not the end of the journey but merely an attitude that helps us labor to preserve and improve our collective experience. Like the founders, it may be easy to slip into an attitude of despair if we only focus on where we have yet to achieve the highest ideals of our stated values.

Instead, take example from those who, while recognizing our failings, fell down on their knees to fervently seek the wisdom that “comes from heaven.”

It seems that our national heroes from George Washington to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bowed their knees to ask divine guidance to improve America, what Lincoln called the “last, best hope of earth.”

Consider this story of George Washington during the worst days of the revolution. The president bowed his face in the snow. A farmer approached the battlefield and stumbled on the future president in the snow, cheeks wet with tears, praying to God for assistance.

The farmer returned home declaring that the cause would be won because “I heard General Washington pray out in the woods today – such fervent prayer I have never heard. And God will surely hear and answer that kind of praying.”

Let us be the type of grateful people who pray fervently for a persistently more perfect union.

(Editor’s note: Koyn is the chief of Religious Support.)  

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Category: Community, Footsteps in Faith

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