Think of what the world would be like without glad and generous hearts around us. Our lives probably would be bleak and hopeless. Consider your own life without ever offering a glad and generous heart to others. “It’s all about me” is a lonely path to walk.
As Thanksgiving nears in the United States, I wonder how the pandemic will affect our family gatherings. Even more so, I wonder how many of us even feel like celebrating, after the bleak turmoil of 2020. At times, I feel more like grieving than I do giving thanks.
A friend of mine who faced significant challenges this year was reflecting recently on the many people who so gladly and generously offered help. “I found that I could not be afraid and grateful at the same time,” he told me.
Gratitude often rises up from the gladness and generosity of others. I also believe the converse is true: that gratitude inspires gladness and generosity, even amidst sorrow, fear or loneliness. Gratitude breaks open our hearts to the real abundance in life, an insight captured by author Melody Beattie:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
In some cultures, the absence of a verbal expression of thanks indicates not a lack of gratitude, but rather a deep recognition of mutual belonging. To give thanks — for instance, hands pressed together with a slight bow — means to honor our interdependence. Genuine gladness, generosity and thanksgiving flow from the heart that is rooted in the awareness of our universal belonging. I cannot help but think this is the first step in listening to God’s call to mission.
Yes, we can give thanks this year. We can also open our hearts to the gladness and generosity of God’s “kin-dom” — our mutual belonging. And as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King amidst our thanksgiving week, may our prayer take us to the ones who most need us:
when you sit with the homeless
at the local shelter,
you are enthroned in glory,
surrounded by the angels
we have forgotten;
when you pass the bread
at the downtown soup kitchen,
you bless it with your grace,
that your neighbor might be filled with hope;
when you take off your winter coat
and drape it around a shivering child,
she is warmed by your heart
aflame with compassion;
we wonder why we cannot find you,
when we search for you among the powerful and wealthy,
while all along you have been with the citizens of your Kingdom:
the hungry, the naked, the sick,
the imprisoned, the lost, the lonely.
help us to meet you there,
help us to meet you there. Amen.
Thom M. Shuman (2005)