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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

November 29, 2020 | Message from Dr. Blake

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. – Psalm 107: NRSV

We Give Thanks This Day For the expanding grandeur of Creation, worlds known and unknown, galaxies beyond galaxies, filling us with awe and challenging our imaginations: We give thanks this day. For this fragile planet earth, its times and tides, its sunsets and seasons: We give thanks this day. For the joy of human life, its wonders and surprises, its hopes and achievements: We give thanks this day. For our human community, our common past and future hope, our oneness transcending all separation, our capacity to work for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression: We give thanks this day. For high hopes and noble causes, for faith without fanaticism, for understanding of views not shared: We give thanks this day. For all who have labored and suffered for a fairer world, who have lived so that others might live in dignity and freedom: We give thanks this day. For human liberty and sacred rites; for opportunities to change and grow, to affirm and choose: We give thanks this day. We pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes, not by our words but by our deeds. We give thanks this day. — O. Eugene Pickett

Thanksgiving is a day I observe with mixed emotions. I am aware of the myth surrounding the first Thanksgiving Day celebration. Myth in this sense refers to falsehood, rather than myth as a bearer of spiritual truth. We have been deliberately misled about what really happened or did not happen. For me, Thanksgiving Day brings great grief about the treatment of our native people then and now. Their resourcefulness helped uninvited immigrants to survive life in what was new territory for them. However, the day is important to me as a sacred time to recognize bountiful blessings. Human beings and other emanations of creation have facilitated, supported, and stretched us into fuller expressions of ourselves. For this, I give thanks. It is a time to take a break from all-consuming projects, the busyness of our lives, to give thanks for life, our lives, for all the caring saints who tutor us even now as they rest from their labor. It is a time of honoring planet and cosmic relationships, the majesty and glory of imagination and the presence of that which is all-pervading. The opening litany inspires me because of its deep spirituality and understanding of human dilemmas and aspirations. It reminds me not to let fears triumph over hope, that deeds are the way of prophetic living, not mere words. It brings into consciousness the profoundly poignant words in the song “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. For many, this Thanksgiving was different from those of the past. There were restrictions on gathering due to the coronavirus. Yet, there were and are other ways to be together, to show our gratitude and love for one another. I received a greeting card from a friend a couple of days prior to Thanksgiving Day. Thursday morning, an animated text email from a friend from “teenagehood” landed among my messages. A telephone call from a friend from childhood made its way to my voicemail. Yes, family and other friends let me know of our continuing gratitude for one another. Now, Thanksgiving is over; but, should its gifts be cast aside? I don’t think so. And, my judgment is endorsed by one of the nation’s greatest spiritual leaders of the past century, Rabbi Abraham Heschel. Heschel says: Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed. While at Harvard Divinity School, Sam Keen was enthralled by Dr. Howard Thurman’s ability to weave together the priorities of head and heart. In Keen’s, Hymns To An Unknown God, he instructs his readers to: Make a ritual of pausing frequently to appreciate and be thankful. Bless the food that nourishes you. Bless whoever loves you in any way. Bless the gifts and talents that call you to create.... Notice that the more you become a connoisseur of gratitude, the less you are the victim of resentment, depression, and despair. Gratitude will act as an elixir that will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your ego – your need to possess and control – and transform you into a generous being. The sense of gratitude produces true spiritual alchemy, makes us magnanimous – large souled. I cherish the idea of gratitude being an elixir, a medicine, remedy that relieves the symptoms of something that is troubling the essential harmony that should exist. There are illnesses that threaten the general welfare of our communities and nation, illnesses to which we are called to respond. Dorothy Day reminds us of wounds in need of healing. But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor. The class structure is of our making and our consent, not His. It is the way we have arranged it, and it is up to us to change it. So we are urging revolutionary change. Living in gratitude does not inoculate one from the pain and misery experienced due to the “isms” - racism, sexism, elitism – the systems that dictate the institutional and personal organization of our participation or lack of participation in society. It can, however, build resistance to these diseases and prevent them from metastasizing our thinking and living in the world. Thanksgiving can be a temporary withdrawal from the consumptive nature of the world in order to rejoin it with renewed purpose and resolve, the soul restored. It has the potential to fortify the self and build immunity that recognizes what belongs in its system and what does not. It can therefore deal with the germs of society in terms of unethical actions and damaging propaganda, thereby, preventing its demise. Thomas Merton reminds us that: To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him....

Merton continues: Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. Each day is a sacred day. During this time of the year, I remember the ideals to which I am called that animate my soul – ideals often submerged or sent underground because they are hard to accomplish. It brings back into my consciousness that I do not travel alone. Indeed, there is a consistent and creative host of witnesses illumining the way. The resources of the universe beckon me to wholeheartedly, not foolheartedly, or faintheartedly, embrace them. For they hold power to transmute skepticism into accomplishment. Dr. Thurman speaks of the agency of the universe in the following statement: The awareness that the universe is dynamic gives to the individual the quiet assurance that wherever he may be located he is in immediate candidacy for the strength that comes from a boundless vitality. This fact makes for a universal kinship among all living things.... The Psalmist states it by insisting that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” I am aware that my life is a part of an immense network of living. There have been and will be times of frustration, lethargy, doubt, outrage, and anxiety. I am also aware that joy comes each morning; for each morning is a new beginning, a fresh start, a new day of grace and gratitude. Henri Nouwen writes: Gratitude goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

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