As we Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day, I would like to offer a few thoughts on thanksgiving itself. In doing so, I am going to refer to a homily sent to me by my good friend, Sister Marlene Vigna, a Mercy Sister from Rochester, NY who attended Indiana University with me many, many years ago. (Each “many” represents over 20 years!) Marlene will give her homily at an ecumenical Thanksgiving prayer service this week. I thank her for allowing me to quote from her beautiful words.
For me personally, Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite holidays. The centerpiece of the day is not gift-giving; it is a meal. More accurately, it is people (often family and/or friends) gathered around a table for a meal. (Due to COVID, many of us will be denied gathering with our loved ones around the table this year. What a sacrifice this will be for us! But we know we make this sacrifice out of our love and concern for our loved ones and the whole wider community.) Thanksgiving is a day when we give thanks for the important things in life: family, friends, faith, freedom, and countless other blessings we have received.
In Marlene’s words, on this holiday “we recognize that life has a gift dimension which cannot be summoned or controlled.” That’s so true! The older we get the more we realize the “given-ness” of life, and how little control we have over anything, really. And on this holiday, we take time “to re-examine our priorities and recall what we treasure most.”
I’ve always admired people who “have a habitual disposition” for gratitude. When I was a child, when we pulled into our driveway after a day visiting with our grandparents or other relatives, I remember my mother saying out loud, “And we thank the Good Lord for a safe trip and a wonderful day.” The spirit of gratitude is diametrically opposed to the sense of entitlement (I deserve this “thing” because of who I am or what I did) and the sense of radical autonomy (I got this “thing” or I did this “thing” all on my own).
Some of us had gratitude drilled into us as children. How often did our parents ask us, when we received even the smallest of gifts, “What do you say?” Some parents even mandated the writing of thank you notes. Marlene tells of her own mother: “She taught us that ‘Thank you’ are the two most important words in the English language.” And she demanded that her children write prompt thank you notes. Says, Marlene, “For our mother, stalling on a thank you note was right up there with murder and adultery. She so drilled promptness into us as children that in our adulthood, we have been accused of writing thank you notes before the events happened or the gifts were received.”
How do we grow in the spirit of gratitude? Marlene suggests keeping a Gratitude Journal. At the end of each day, she jots down “5 gifts of that day.” Why? Marlene explains, “It makes consummate sense to keep track of the persons and things we cherish and to deepen our awareness of the frequent interventions of God into the ordinariness of our lived experience.” She adds, “There is something of grace in taking this daily inventory and affirming what might otherwise pass unnoticed.”
I agree fully with Marlene when she says, gratitude is “one of the loveliest of our human emotions.” And, “expressing gratitude is remembrance of our dependence on God and others, a confession of our humanity, and a way of recognizing that we do not walk alone.”
I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving! On this day and every day may God bless you with every Good Gift!
Who are the PEOPLE who have enriched my life and growth?
What EVENTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES in my life have contributed to forming the best in me?
What THINGS have I received that I treasure the most? How might I share these things with others?
I’m offering two videos today. The first is the song “All Good Gifts” from the musical Godspell. The second is called “Thanksgiving Song” and is a clever non-romanticized picture of a contemporary family gathering for their Thanksgiving dinner.
“All Good Gifts”
“Thanksgiving Song” by Igniter Media:
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