The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 is believable).

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.

The problem with a fleeting foray as a sensory being into a dualistic world is that boundaries and limitations become believable.

And it’s not that beginnings and endings (it’s not that boundaries and limitations) are untrue.  It’s just that they aren’t the only truth, much less the highest truth.

It’s one of my favorite stories from the Judeo-Christian tradition.  It appears in all four of the gospels.  Now, because there are those among us who tend to 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.

Now, I say they are the four biblical accounts of the life and ministry of the Rabbi Yeshua because there are non-biblical accounts.  He is arguably referenced in secular and historical accounts as well.

And I say they are the four biblical accounts of the life and ministry of the Rabbi Yeshua because he wasn’t a Christian.  He didn’t start, invent or intend what would become the Christian tradition.  He was an observant Jew ministering within the context of his Jewish faith often to a Jewish audience.  You’ll recall that the word Christianity doesn’t appear in your Judeo-Christian Bible.

And I say they are the four biblical accounts of the life and ministry of the Rabbi Yeshua because he never heard the name “Jesus.”  So you deserve to know that should he arise or descend or materialize in your neighborhood as some of our more literal brothers and sisters would have us expect (to no small amount of concern on my part, by the way), should he arise or descend or materialize in your neighborhood, easily recognizable from the countless paintings which imply a striking resemblance to Brad Pitt or Kevin Costner, complete with flowing blond locks cascading over blue eyes to Caucasian shoulders, and should you impulsively shout, “Hey, Jesus,” or, “Welcome home, Jesus,” or, “Merry Christmas, Jesus,” it is entirely possible that he will appear to ignore your shouts altogether.

Nonetheless, it’s one of my favorite stories from the Judeo-Christian tradition.  It 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, for example, and the stories are quite different.  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 Jesus had been teaching about treasures and seeds when he learned that John the Baptist (his earthly cousin, according to the author of the Gospel of Luke) had been executed; at which point he retreated – understandably – to a quiet place.  And although he presumably wanted some degree of privacy, when the crowds followed him, 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.”

So, the setting is one of staggering injustice.  The setting is one of crippling loss.  And, the setting is one of an apparent lack.  For when he said, “They need not go away.  Give them something to eat,” the they in question is thought to have 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, period.  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 – looked to into the faces of the 5,000 and said, “Dang, God, why do you have to disrespect me this way?”

And, “God, why do bad things happen to good people?  Here I am, travelling from village to village to village, by foot, uphill both ways, making the world a better place, and you send me 5,000 mouths.”

Jesus didn’t say those things.  But if you’re like me, you can relate to the temptation to say those things.  “Dang, God, why do you have to disrespect me this way?”

But that’s not how our story goes.

In the most climactic moment of the tale, Jesus took what he had – some bread and some fish – 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 a couple thousand years ago is to so distance ourselves from the truths of this story that it becomes of little relevance whatsoever.

But to look to the possibility that no matter what’s up in life, we have to start where we are – that if we’re in the throes of an injustice, that’s where we start; if we’re in the discomforts of a loss, that’s where we start; if we’re in the experiences of a lack, that’s where we start; if we’re against the shadows of a limitation, that’s where we start.

To look to the possibility that no matter what’s up in life, we have to start where we are  and that we, too, can look up – that we, too, can look beyond the appearance of bread and fish and hungry faces and open our hearts to the realization of God is enough-ness through the spiritual practice of gratitude.

That is to so insert ourselves into to truths of 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 from the uncommon truth of God is enough-ness for all.  And that same 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, “Thanksgiving 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.”

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 is believable).

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 of God is enough-ness.

“Dear God, I give thanks in every apparent ending, knowing that from your noble perspective, such merely disguises a new beginning. I give thanks in every apparent discord, knowing that in your perfect balance, such simply veneers a new harmony. I give thanks in every seeming failure, knowing that in your grand equity, such only masks a new triumph.

“Dear God, I give thanks even in my shortcomings, for it is through these shortcomings that something of your strength must appear. I give thanks even in my mistakes for it is through these mistakes that something of your wisdom must arise. I give thanks even in my challenges for it is through these challenges that something of your faith must emerge.

“Dear God, I give thanks even in that which I don’t understand. I give thanks even in that which is incomplete. I give thanks even in that which is unreconciled, knowing that each ultimately returns me to you, as the only source of lasting satisfaction.

“Dear God, I give thanks in the very fullness of the human experience (such as it is and such as it is not), knowing that each moment, that each encounter, that each juncture is a window through which your light might somehow shine.”