Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Always Thankful

"Blossoms and Thorns"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

A friend of mine was telling me about her family Thanksgiving custom. As they sit at the table for the big turkey dinner,  each person is given a little sheet of paper on which to list all the things for which they are thankful. Then, before the meal begins they all go around the table and everyone reads their "list of thanks." 

When I first heard of this custom I thought it was a nice idea - far better than a mumbled prayer before everyone "digs in." But the more I thought about this, the less I liked it. 

The truth is that most people are only thankful for the "good stuff" in life (often only thankful for the "really good stuff").  Most people are thankful for the things they want to happen to them - thankful for a nice home, a family, a good job, good health, thankful for the promotion, thankful for getting a good grade. 

Yet many times in life things happen that we don't particularly want to happen (like breaking an arm while walking your dog). On top of that most of the events in everyday life are pretty ordinary- work is often quite boring, the routine of everyday living is mundane. Washing clothes, paying bills and doing the dishes - hardly exciting or worthy of note.

My guess is that, at my friend's Thanksgiving meal, the people around her table probably won't be placing "boring work," "doing the dishes," "a head cold and a stuffy nose," or "a cancer diagnosis" on their "list of thanks" to be read before the meal begins. 

In the Christian scriptures, Saint Paul admonishes one of his churches:

Be thankful in all the circumstances of life

I think I finally understand what this means - it' s pretty good advice.

Very little (if anything) in this life is under our control. Life simply happens, and it often happens far differently than we want or expect it to happen.  Furthermore most of our everyday living is kind of lackluster and routine, hardly filled with action-packed moments notable enough to make it to a thanksgiving list. But the deeper peace of everyday living doesn't come about because life is so exciting and because everything has gone according to plan. In fact, we only find that deeper peace when we can learn to embrace and be thankful for life as it is rather than what we want it to be.

So, when Saint Paul admonishes his fellow Christians to be "thankful in all circumstances of life," I think he is telling them to"embrace all of life as it comes to you." I think he is telling them that we are never alone as we walk though the wilderness of life. We always have one another as we journey through life and the energy of God's Holy Presence abides among us in the good times as well as the bad times. So, always be thankful.

Be thankful in all the circumstances of life.

Something Thich Nhat Hanh once said comes to mind as I reflect on "being thankful."

Walk as if, in every step you take, you are kissing the earth with your feet.

I don't even want to think about my "top ten" list of thanks.  Instead I think I'll go out and take a walk this morning. Every step I take will be a prayer of thanksgiving as I kiss the earth with my feet. 

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