The problem with a human incarnation is that it’s believable. What our ears hear is believable. What our noses smell is believable. What our fingers touch is believable. What our tongues taste is believable. And what our eyes see is believable (especially, what our eyes see). And indeed, it’s not that what our senses perceive is untrue. It’s just that what our senses perceive isn’t the only truth, much less the highest truth.
So, I might say that the problem with a human incarnation – the problem with a fleeting foray as a sensory being into a dualistic world – is that beginnings and endings become believable, that boundaries and limitations become believable. And it’s not that beginnings and endings or boundaries and limitations are untrue. It’s just that they aren’t the only truth, much less the highest truth.
One of my favorite stories from the Judeo-Christian tradition appears in all four of the gospels. Now, because there are those among us who nod politely when I say “gospels,” not because they know what I’m referring to, but because they think they should know what I’m referring to, the gospels are the four biblical accounts of the life and ministry of the Rabbi Yeshua.
The account that I refer to appears in all four of the gospels – captured with some variation by the different chroniclers, each writing from a different perspective to a different audience with a different purpose; with the earliest account originating around 60 of the common era and the latest account originating around 100 – some 70 years after the crucifixion.
Now, when I say that it appears in all four of the gospels, understand that such is not always the case. Only two writers include birth stories, each quite different from the other. The writer of Matthew records a sermon on the mount while the writer of Luke records a sermon on the plain and so forth.
So, this story was, arguably, special.
What we’re told is that Yeshua had been teaching when he learned that John the Baptist (his earthly cousin, according to the Gospel of Luke) had been executed, at which point he retreated to a quiet place. And although he presumably wanted some degree of privacy, when the crowds followed, he didn’t send them away, but he went ashore and he touched and connected and blessed and healed. And even as night fell, he perpetuated the togetherness by saying to the disciples, “They need not go away. Give them something to eat.”
The setting is one of staggering injustice and crippling loss and an apparent lack. For when Yeshua said, “They need not go away. Give them something to eat,” the they in question numbered some 5,000. And I find myself thinking, ah – this is a story for all people who have experienced moments of injustice, loss, lack or limitation. In other words, I might go so far as to say that this is a story for all people. For moments of injustice, loss, lack or limitation seem to be inherent in what it means to have a human incarnation; inherent in what it means to have taken this fleeting foray as a sensory being into a dualistic world.
And in the most climactic moment of the tale, Jesus took what he had – some bread and some fish – and he looked up and he gave thanks.
Now, to look to the possibility that 5,000 people made a meal from some bread and some fish is to so distance ourselves from this story that it becomes of little relevance whatsoever. But to look to the possibility that no matter what’s up in life, we are to start where we are – that if we’re in the throes of an injustice, that’s where we start; that if we’re in the discomforts of a loss, that’s where we start, that if we’re in the experiences of a lack, that’s where we start; that if we’re up against the appearances of a limitation, that’s where we start.
To look to the possibility that we are to start where we are and that we are to look up (I imagine this to mean that we are to look beyond those easily-believable truths of a human incarnation – that we are to look beyond that bread and that fish and those 5,000 hungry faces; and that we are to open our hearts to the higher truths of soul life; that we are to prepare our consciousness to reveal the higher possibilities of God) and through the spiritual practice of gratitude to so insert ourselves into this story that we, too, might reveal something seemingly miraculous at the end our days.
For from that spiritual practice of gratitude, the disciples began to pass the food. Now, whether each added to the baskets a share of olives or raisins from his own pocket, we don’t know. But from that spiritual practice of gratitude, the disciples began to pass the food as if there were enough for everyone, and somehow there was. And a day that started with staggering injustice, crippling loss, apparent lack and seeming limitation, left all satisfied in the end, with plenty to spare.
Unity tradition has addressed this spiritual practice of gratitude many times with words like, “Praise and thanksgiving have within them quickening spiritual power.”
Or, “Giving thanks may be likened to the rain that falls upon the ready soil, refreshing vegetation and increasing the productiveness of the soil.”
Or, “Heaven and earth listen and respond to the soul that is quickened into praise and thanksgiving.”
From Eric Butterworth, “Your thanksgiving is more than a response to what is happening around you or to you. It is a celebration of the Truth.”
“A grateful heart will always attract to itself in one way or another, through human hands, or through wonder-working ways, the great things needed.”
And from Martha Smock, “Do not wait to give thanks until every prayer is answered. Do not wait to give thanks until things are perfect. Give thanks where you are, in the present set of circumstances, in the conditions in which you find yourself. Give thanks for life; give thanks for this day at hand. Give thanks for the opportunities to grow and learn.”
As we enter the time called Lent in the Christian tradition, I invite you to cultivate a practice of giving thanks for at least one thing everyday. And who knows, it may become an ongoing practice.