You might think that I’m engaging life in a confused order. My last post was about an amalgamated Christmas and now I’m reflecting on Thanksgiving, which we celebrated less than two weeks ago. I’m not out of alignment with the calendar, today’s culture is. Hints that Christmas is coming have crept earlier and earlier so that Christmas promotion begins before Thanksgiving is even a thought.
But Thanksgiving is for thinking. There’s more to the celebration than roast turkey, pumpkin pie and everything in between. The obvious thinking for serious Thanksgiving celebration circles around the words “giving” and “thanks.” Expressing thanks cannot be dismissed with a few words, albeit well-chosen ones, prior to reaching for the nearest serving bowl filled with delicious Thanksgiving fare and dishing out an unhealthy amount to begin the process of covering a plate with portions of the bounty that covers the table.
While spending five days with my daughter Shayle in her home in Eugene, Oregon, far from my home in the beautiful fly-over hidden gem that is St. Louis, Missouri, there were many moments of being thankful. Did we ceremoniously talk about “what I’m thankful for this year” and attempt to construct lists of such things? No. We did bow in humble gratefulness and thank God for life and blessings before eating more than we needed of turkey, dressing (stuffing, if that’s what you call it) and gravy, green-bean casserole, steamed vegetables crescent rolls, and assortment of condiments/trimmings. Oh, of course there was pie, pumpkin pie.
While I drove a rental car from Portland to Eugene when I arrived on the western shelf of the country, I was in quiet mode contemplating the beauty—God-made and man-made—around me as I explored the Willamette Valley channeled by two mountain ranges. God’s grand experiment for the west coast and man’s care for and nurturing of that experiment have produced beauty that inspires the soul and productivity that enhances life for the region. I felt thankful.
The verbal thankfulness, which we expressed in prayer prior to eating our Thanksgiving feast, was not our only experience of thanks-giving. Some of our thankfulness was directed toward God and some was expressed to each other. Shayle had projects with which she could use some help. I was thankful she felt free to ask for help and she acknowledged her thankfulness for my help. I had thoughts and silent words to God, the author of life, for the gifts of my children who do not sequester their thoughts of thankfulness; saying thank you comes easily for them.
On Sunday, Shayle and I worshiped with Christian believers known as First Christian Church of Eugene, a congregation that takes truth, peace, and justice seriously. Together we marked this first Sunday of Advent by following their beautiful traditions: lighting a candle, stretching stars across the sanctuary expanse above the parishioners heads, children with chrismons attacking the Christmas tree and then draping garlands on pew-ends. Scripture that inspired, music that lifted, and a sermon that challenged provided fodder for thankful hearts, mine included.
As I think about these reflections on Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that giving thanks is not so much an action as it is an attitude. The Christian life is a thankful one. We not only do actions—give gifts, say words, serve others—that express being thankful, we live our thankfulness out of a natural attitude toward life that arises from being grateful people.
My life is lived as a gift of thanks to God in response to his grace-filled gift of the Christ, which is a gift of hope for life today and life to come. With a thankful heart, I share my life and its story with joy and pride for it is my unique story that gives hope to people with whom I share it.
While with Shayle in Eugene we had lunch with two of her colleagues. Somewhere in the robust conversation one of her friends extended her appreciation to me for posting a personal story in two of my previous posts on this blog. In the ensuing conversation I filled in more details than were included in the blog. Again, words of thankfulness were expressed.
Then the other lunch companion at the table with Shayle and me told how thankful she was and how much she appreciated my story, particularly how my spiritual path was interwoven with coming to terms with my sexuality. These words of blessing made me feel good even though they came from someone whose current spiritual pilgrimage does not include participation in a Christian congregation. I in turn was thankful that I had given witness to the pervasive Spirit of God in my life. I am thankful that God’s Spirit communing with my spirit does not pick and choose which part of my life will be touched in a spiritual way. Even my sexuality is synced with the communion between God’s Spirit and my spirit.
Giving thanks, to be genuine and meaning-filled, is who we are in all of our living, not just what we say, or even what we do, but in who we are. Authentic persons will be thankful in both expression and practice in all ways and at all times. No, I’m not out of alignment with the calendar. I will be observing thanksgiving as I celebrate the birth of Jesus, and his victory when he walked from the empty tomb, and throughout the year.