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To the Saints who are in Los Osos,
Last month I wrote in my column that October is one of my two favorite months. November is the other. I love it for the same kinds of reasons I love October. I have always loved the celebration of Thanksgiving, the closest thing we have to an appropriate intermingling of secular and religious holidays. As a child I remember Halloween as fun and kid-important but still a minor holiday. Thanksgiving, and then Christmas were the two big celebrations. Thanksgiving often meant eating at my grandmother’s house and to this day I don’t think there is anyone who can cook a turkey as well as she did.
Recently however, it seems different. Halloween has grown exponentially in the lavishness of preparation and celebration – (and I will admit that I am one who enjoys Halloween immensely). Thanksgiving now just feels sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas. In addition to that many have become much more aware of issues relating to American indigenous peoples. Also, as fewer people express faith traditions the very idea of thankfulness is watered down.
Thanksgiving, while not a Church holiday, reflects the Hebrew harvest festival and can lead us to be more aware of God’s provision. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12 Paul writes “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This is a great idea pointing to the power of God, but how can we possibly give thanks in all circumstances?
For many, this year it will feel impossible to be thankful. As I write this, fires are still raging throughout California. Many have lost loved ones, more have lost businesses and homes. 2017 has been one of the most devastating hurricane years. Thousands have lost their homes and livelihoods and the economic toll is phenomenal. 2017 has also been a year of devastating earthquake as widely separated as China, Italy and Mexico to name but a few. The shooting in Las Vegas has directly touched thousands of lives. Violence in the streets, police shootings and hate marches seem to be the order of the day. How can those who have suffered so much give thanks?
Part of the answer may be a proper understanding of what Paul was saying. He didn’t say, “give thanks for all circumstances,” but rather that we should give thanks even in the midst of all circumstances. That may be part of the answer, but I don’t find it a very satisfying one. I do find it helpful to remember that Paul, the man who writes those words, suffered ridicule, physical violence, imprisonment, and ultimately the sentence of death because of his faith in Jesus. Somehow he managed to remain thankful to God in the midst of all of his trials. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how he did it, but I admire and aspire to that kind of faith.
In the meantime, in the midst of this most difficult year I will gather to eat the turkey, perhaps watch the parade and some football, and to thank God for those things I am able to recognize. As we grow in discipleship and strive to be more Christlike, maybe that’s the best we can do. Maybe it’s even enough. Despite not having answers, somehow I still believe that God is active in the world. That means that even though my joy is diminished by the pain of those who have suffered this year, that God still wishes joy and wholeness for all creation.
See you in Church,