Thankful: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Thanksgiving Day arrives this week. It will be a different holiday for many of us. The vast majority of us will forego large gatherings. There is the shadow of a pandemic that hangs over the nation and many are experiencing financial hardship. Clearly, this will be a different Thanksgiving for most of us.
Yet, the heart of the day remains. It is a time to give thanks.
As I begin to consider what I am thankful for, I realize that so much of it is transient. For instance, as soon as I say that I am thankful for my family, I realize much of my family has already departed this life. Both of my brothers are gone as is my father. Aunts and uncles are nowhere to be found and even cousins are in short supply. My mother at 93 is still with us, but my thankfulness for her is tempered with the knowledge that yet another loss looms on the horizon.
At present, I can say that I am thankful for my health and relative well-being, yet in the midst of a pandemic it almost seems as though just by stating this I am tempting fate. Indeed, so much for which we might consider giving thanks, such as jobs, homes, health, etc., are remarkably transient, especially in the current situation. Increasingly, much for which I give thanks seems to belong to the realm of memory. What I mean by this is that I can still be thankful for my father and my brothers, even though they are no longer present, because in reality they are still present in my life through their love, their influence and what they contributed to the person that I’ve become. I have the same sense of thankfulness for the many teachers and mentors, almost all of them now gone, that I have been privileged to know and to benefit from through the years.
Now, I should make it clear that I am thankful for the roof over my head and the food that is on my table. That thankfulness, however, is tempered with the knowledge that life can change. If we doubt this we might talk to the people of Phoenix, Oregon or Paradise, California. We also might wish to talk to those in the Christian minority of Syria or those believers fleeing persecution in numerous African nations.
All this is to say, in the end, thankfulness has less to do with material possessions and more to do with relationships, with God and with one another. Christ’s promise has always been that of a relationship and, despite those promoting a prosperity gospel, not a promise of wealth and/or success. We are promised a relationship with one who carries a cross who, when he returns, will bear in his body the marks of his Passion. The invitation to a relationship is for us to bear our own cross and to follow him. Yet, the relationship extends beyond the singular as we are called into a relationship with all the others who follow him… and have followed him… and will follow him. Perhaps that is what we should give thanks for this week, that is, to be thankful for God’s great gift in the person of Christ and for the gift that we are meant to be for one another.
So, this Thanksgiving, I will call those who are distant and I will let them know that I am thankful for their love and friendship. In our prayers at the table we will remember those who have gone before us in the faith – family, friends and mentors alike. We will pray and give thanks for the Church and, finally, the two or three of us at the table will give thanks for the inestimable gift of Christ.
And, just to say to all of those reading this short reflection, so many of you have enriched my life and my faith. I am thankful for you.