Reflection: October 9 – Thanksgiving Sunday

Let us pause for a moment and create a space in our hearts and minds to recognize the blessing of God’s presence…Pause for silence… and, in the words of Mary Jo Leddy we offer a prayer to God…

We are grateful,
You have given us this day
and have given us this way

to say Thank You.
We thank you for giving us
what we need to be grateful.
We offer back to You 
all that we have 
all that we are.
We know our thank you 
is as fragile as we are 
– it can be crushed
by the care of the moment 
– it can disappear 
in the heat of the day
– it can be blown away
by the winds of suffering.
And so we ask You
to take our small thank you
into Your great act of Thanksgiving:
…You in whom it is all
Yes and Amen.

Mary Jo Leddy is a devout Christian who lives and works with refugees in the “Romero House Community” in Toronto. She is also the author of a book called Radical Gratitude which I highly recommend. She is a silver haired woman who exudes gentleness and kindness, strength and conviction. I had the great priviledge to hear her speak in person at the Western Women’s Conference, at Naramata Centre, three years ago. I was impressed by her humility, quiet assurance and confident faith. She is a woman who “walks the talk” and integrates her deep and abiding faith with a life of faith-filled loving action.

Radical gratitude, which Mary Jo Leddy talks about, is the idea that we are gifted with God’s abundant love which in turn calls us to respond with gratitude and loving-kindness. In her writing she invites readers to “ponder gratitude as the most radical attitude in life”. (Radical Gratitude, pg. 4) She goes on to say, “Radical gratitude begins when we stop taking life for granted. It arises in the astonishment at the miracle of creation and of our own creation.” (Ibid. pg. 7) “Gratitude begins as small and as real as a child. It enters the world as wonder as simple as a flower.” (Ibid. pg. 71)

It is this kind of radical gratitude that is reflected in the scripture passages that we heard this morning. Deuteronomy talks about the abundance of God’s creation and the need to give thanks to God the creator and sustainer of life. And, the apostle Paul, speaking to the early Christian Church in Corinth, encourages members to be generous in their response to God’s abundant blessings. Remember Paul’s words, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11-12)

Paul encouraged the early Christian community in Corinth not only to consider themselves but also to be generous in their support of other struggling Christian communities. He wanted them to do this not out of a sense of guilt and resentment but with gratitude for their abundance and with thanksgiving to God. Paul also consistently pointed to Jesus as the inspiration and guide for Christian communities.

Mary Jo Leddy holds Jesus to be the perfect example of radical gratitude. “In the person of Jesus, we see the example of what it means to live in radical gratitude. …In the life of Jesus we see someone whose life gave weight to his words. …[Jesus] has shown us the way of the loaves and fishes, when what we give away multiplies, ignites, and sustains. He has shown us how one good word grows and gathers into a symphony of truth. He has shown us how one small hope whispered in the dark fills out and flows until it becomes a movement. …He has shown us the way of the supper when you set the table with your life and it becomes as real as love, friendship, and community. And…He told us that we should never take for granted our own life or that of another. Those who had been most taken for granted, the poor and the outcasts, he accounted as being of infinite value. He did not simply let his life be wasted away, but rather he gave of it freely, fully, and forever.” (Radical Gratitude, pg. 68)

In my own life, as a person of faith, I try to live each day with radical gratitude. Some days it’s easy, some days it’s hard, but the first words I utter every morning are, “Gracious God, thank you for this day, for the gift of life and the gift of love which makes life worth living.” I also ask to be open to God’s loving presence so that I may embrace the day with faith and hope and be open to the opportunities and challenges that the day may bring. It is my way of saying, “Yes, to life” and “Thanks to God.” Fourteenth century (C.E.) theologian and mystic, Meister Eckhart, perhaps said it best when he noted that, “If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life is ‘Thank You’, it would be enough.”

A very real challenge for Christians in the 21st century is to avoid being influenced by the culture of cynicism and dissatisfaction which is prevalent in North America. Mary Jo Leddy says that the function of advertizing is to make us dissatisfied with what we have and that we can also easily become dissatisfied with who we are. She says that, “In gratitude, the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction with life is broken and we begin anew in the recognition of what we have rather than in what we don’t, in the acknowledgment of who we are rather than in the awareness of who we aren’t. Gratitude is the foundation of faith in God as the Creator of all beginnings, great and small. It awakens the imagination to another way of being, to another kind of economy, the great economy of grace in which each person is of infinite value and worth.” (Radical Gratitude)

Embracing the practice of radical gratitude is not a Pollyanna approach to life. It is not a disavowing of the inequities in life or ignorance of the pain and suffering that many in our community, and our world, experience. It is rather an approach to life which is based on the belief that life is a gift from God and that all life is sacred. Each one of us has suffered hardship and loss of some kind in our lives. But, even in the midst of suffering there can be moments of grace in which we know beyond doubt that God is present and active in our lives.

As a community of faith we embrace radical gratitude every time we gather to worship together. Christian worship in it’s very essence is about celebrating God’s presence, giving thanks for Christ’s life and ministry, and reaffirming our commitment to live our faith in the actions of our lives. We join with others in our yearning to live meaningful lives and encourage and inspire one another in Christ-like living. We encourage and strengthen each other on this journey of life and faith which we share.

I began this reflection with prayerful words from an older woman rooted in the depth of her faith and the wisdom of her life experience. I’ll close with words of encouragement and thanksgiving written by a younger woman, named Doris Kizinna, who has dedicated much of her life to ministry with youth and young adults. Her words reveal the depth of her faith and the wisdom of her experience; they are words of blessing and encouragement for us all:

Practice God in your life.
Speak clear deep tones of truth to all you meet.
Practice faith in many forms, 
and pay attention to the uncomfortable places you are being called.
Wonder always about your place in the Mystery.
Pray when you can, and pray even when you can’t.
Keep your heart open to loving people and loving God.
…Fall on your knees in gratitude for small things.
Pay attention, look at the stars, 
embrace silence, and listen for God.
The call of God in your life is expressed in how you choose to live.
The love of God in your life is expressed in how you serve.
The presence of God in your life is expressed in how you love.
Life in God, always waiting for you.
(Go Deep, by Doris Kizinna, excerpts, page 253)

May it be so, this day and always.

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