Recently I took an assembly at a local school and spoke about Noah having the courage of his convictions to do what God called him to do - even though on the surface it seemed crazy, and despite probably having to face a lot of scepticism from family and friends. At the conclusion of my talk, the children burst into spontaneous applause - surprising both myself and the head teacher who'd never witnessed such a reaction previously. I'm not often lost for words, but I was on this occasion, yet equally delighted that they had clearly appreciated my take on this important Old Testament reading.
It reminded me of an incident in my home town of Brighouse involving my elderly Aunt and her husband Bert. They'd gone to a Salvation Army band concert at the local Citadel with another couple and she recalled how they'd thoroughly enjoyed themselves and clapped enthusiastically after the last item. The Major then got up to give thanks, and rounded off the evening with prayer. At the end of the prayer, everyone present said the usual 'AMEN' ('Let it be so'), except Bert and his close friend. Much to the amazement of my Aunt, they started to clap! Naturally they were dug in the ribs and told that it wasn't the done thing to clap for a prayer. Bert replied: 'Nay lass, if I can clap when I've enjoyed the band, I should be allowed to clap when I've appreciated a good prayer'. Different - but how right!
I was also present with over 300 other people at the funeral of James who I referred to last month. His Grandfather spoke very movingly - both sharing tears as well as laughter - but captured James' life perfectly. When he concluded, again the congregation burst into spontaneous applause, both for a Grandfather who had offered memories from the heart in deep love and gratitude, but also I'm sure for James' life whose presence had lit up every room and relationship he blessed in his short life.
During this time of Lent, many churches up and down the country are using study material from the York Courses entitled this year: 'The Psalms - Prayers for Today's Church'. In the first session the participants are encouraged to reflect on expressions of thankfulness, making the point that adults' prayers usually begin with the word 'please', whereas children's prayers usually began with the words 'thank you'. Although it might be a bit of generalisation, the point made is that adults are likely to ask God for things in prayer, but children are more mindful of the things that bring comfort and joy, thus expressing an appreciation of what is, and taking delight in those who provide, nurture and support them along the way.
We are reminded that thanksgiving is a constant theme within the Book of Psalms. Psalm 136 for instance contains a long list of 'thank yous'; Psalm 18 is a beautiful and heartfelt song of adoration and thanksgiving; and Psalm 150 is just one short, sharp burst of praise and thanksgiving. The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, is quoted as saying: 'If we have no real interest in praising (and thanking) God it shows that we have never realised who He is'.
We are therefore encouraged through the Psalms to thank God for the gift of each day, each meal, each friendship, each expression of care and support, each breath - knowing that we are totally dependent upon Him for all the blessings of this life as we journey towards the next. This may include giving God a spontaneous clap as a thank-offering for all that He has done for us, and the promise of eternity given that the Psalmist encourages with the words: 'Clap your hands, all you peoples, shout to the LORD with a joyous shout!' (Psalm 47: 1). Certainly different - but I'm sure the Psalmist is right. If we can clap when we've enjoyed an offering of talents, then surely we ought to do that to a God who has given generously for our delight and enjoyment. Maybe we should try it sometime, but it's better if it's spontaneous...