In Thanksgiving

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And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth; who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will!  May he grant you joy of heart and may peace abide among you; may his goodness toward us endure in Israel to deliver us in our days.

Sirach 50: 22-24

Today in the United States is the annual celebration of Thanksgiving Day. It comes at a time in the country’s history and politics when its reminder to grow in gratitude may be never more necessary for a people who are, in a contradictory way, so relatively comfortable and wealthy — and yet painfully conflicted and unhappy.

The gospel from Luke that the liturgy offers us for the feast day is the story of the ten lepers whom Jesus cures, yet only one returns to thank him. Ten have their lives restored to them, and yet only one takes the time to return and offer thanks. If we are honest, we have to admit that the odds in the story are about right. Perhaps we’re doing well if we realize and express our gratitude one out of ten times it is due. Yet, there may be no other human disposition so vital to the experience of peace and joy as gratitude.

Yesterday a good friend who carries on an email dialogue based on these reflections wrote the following:  “Last night I could not sleep. I was awake for 3 hours or more, but I was quite content. I spent time in prayers of gratitude, for my life as it is and for the building blocks that I did not appreciate at the earlier ages that brought me here.” As I read this morning’s passage from Sirach, I was reminded of her experience of spending her waking hours during the night “in prayers of gratitude, for my life as it is and for the building blocks that I did not appreciate at the earlier ages that brought me here.” She was speaking of reflecting on her life in accord with the words of Sirach: “. . . bless the God of all . . . who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will!”

In order to experience and live in gratitude, we must realize that our life and our world is a gift, but even more that it is an unfolding gift that is always being brought into fuller being, in love. Our life is not an autonomous and autarchic  self-possession. It is a living and growing expression of the creative and merciful love of God in the world. At every moment from our conception in our mother’s womb, in every event and in every human encounter of our lives, God is forming us “according to God’s will.” In what pleases us and in what displeases us, in what buttresses our ego and in what deflates it, in gain and in loss, we are experiencing the “building blocks” of our lives as God wills them to be.

Without such a vision and faith, if the pleasure principle is our only norm for appraisal, then we fall prey to resentment when things don’t go “our way.” As my friend described, we naturally don’t appreciate “building blocks” of our lives that are difficult and painful at the time they occur. In fact we are more than apt to resent them. One of the measures of growing in faith, hope, and love is an increasing ability to experience gratitude for those people, events, and things whom we once resented. This transformation is not an easy one. Living for long periods in regret and resentment can begin to atrophy our capacity for awe and gratitude. Our psyches tend to become, in time, our resentments and hurts. Perhaps some of the nine lepers who did not return to give thanks had, in their isolated and marginalized lives, lost the trust that would make the expression of their gratitude to Jesus possible.

As a boy and an only child, I tended, as I approached and entered adolescence, to have a tendency toward withdrawal and self-pity. When I felt lonely, that was other peoples’ fault, and I would feel angry at any and all, be it parents, relatives, peers, companions who did not relieve my loneliness. When I was in such moods, my mother would, in various ways, communicate to me the message that “the world does not owe us anything.” In some ways, this message seems like a contradiction to the realization that life is gift for which we are to be grateful. And yet, it is precisely the opposite. For gratitude is not an emotion; it is an action. “What you have received as a gift, you are to give as a gift.” (Matthew 10:8) My mother was teaching me that we already have everything we want and need, but we must act in such a way as to dispose ourselves to receive it. The world is a gift, but you must enter it and be responsible to it in order to realize the gift in your own life. We know gratitude in our “giving back.”

For a considerable time, we in the United States have accumulated, consumed, and wastefully disposed of a disproportionate amount of the planet’s resources. We have somehow forgotten that what is given is a gift from God for all, and instead developed a sense of entitlement that the world owes us yet more. The result of such a disposition is ever greater frustration and anger. What we truly long for, however, is the “joy of heart” and abiding “peace” of which Sirach speaks. May this day’s celebration remind us that such joy and peace are the fruits only of grateful and loving hearts.

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so
freely bestowed upon us.
For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and
sky and sea.

We thank you, Lord.
For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women,
revealing the image of Christ,

We thank you, Lord.
For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and
our friends,

We thank you, Lord.
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,

We thank you, Lord.
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,

We thank you, Lord.
For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering
and faithful in adversity,

We thank you, Lord.
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,

We thank you, Lord.
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,

We thank you, Lord.
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and
promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;

To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the
Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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2 Comments

  1. Vincent Maligno PhD says:

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Vincent Maligno PhD says:

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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