Over the past few weeks, I have spent hours poring over dated files and faded pictures from some 40 years of work.
There were black and white prints of people long gone, but suddenly and fondly remembered. There were photos of meetings and trips, of hovels and cathedrals, of human projects and natural beauty.
So much of little archival value, so many destined for the dumpster, but for a minute, they served both memory and mood. There was clarity, a sharpness of relief that brought to life not just that captured moment in time, but the context in which the subject had entered, and often affected, my story.
In the files were reams of writing of every ilk and stripe — letters, articles, reports and scripts. If viewed chronologically, one would hope that they would have shown some progression of thought, even some personal growth or transformative change in the author.
But these, pulled from alphabetized files, only served as pictures in prose, snapshots of some passing concern or urgency. Still, they offered points of a life in review, a litany of people, ideas and events who once called my attention or invited my thoughts. They, too, resurrected the past and reminded me not only of what I was doing, but a bit of who I was at some given time.
As I paged through the piles of previous work, an old German phrase came to mind: “Denken ist danken.” It sounds like something you’d read on a bumper on the autobahn, but it belongs to the Pietists of the 17th century: “Thinking is thanking.”
Pietism tried to reform the reform, urging people to live vigorous, intentional and holy lives. “Denken ist danken” was their hashtag to help achieve that.
Without even realizing it, I was doing this, albeit a little late. With each picture I pondered, and every line I reread, I was holding up something in my life, contemplating its depth in that moment, and its breadth over time.
Colleagues posing for a picture around a table or a 30-second radio spot was probably not considered significant, if it was considered at all. But all these moments have endured in me. These chips and shards of my past now compose the mosaic of who I am today.
Thinking of this, I can’t help but be grateful for everything that has become part of my life — and for a patient God Who did not wait on my gratitude for this happen.