One of our contemporary journalists has decided to leave behind his usual round of assignments, and to walk around the world.
We remember Travels with Charlie, John Steinbeck’s drive across America with his pet dog. You may remember a similar, more post-modern drive across the outback of America by William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways. Another such volume a few years ago was A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins.
But this fellow, Paul Salopek, is walking around the world. He has been at it for a couple of years already.
The television camera and crew caught up with him in Eastern Europe. He has been through four pairs of shoes. He carries very little in his backpack: a change of clothes and a computer. He has some traveling buddies, part guide, part protector, part friend. He asks people in various towns to let him stay with them. And they do. Then he interviews them, doing a video interview once a month.
One thing he said really struck me. The world is a very hospitable place. With only a few exceptions, this world is a very hospitable place. People receive, welcome and offer you hospitality. The world is hospitable. Paul Salopek began walking I believe in January of 2013. His irenic voice has a faint but real resonance, Thanksgiving 2015, as we are immersed in reports of violence around the globe. This Sunday each year we remember to be thankful.
Are we mindful of sources of gratitude?
We are not always as thoughtful as we could be, not as mindful as we should be…
Then let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving.
Let us be mindful of the goodness of God, as sung in the 126th Psalm…
Let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving.
Let us be mindful of the blessings of God, as sung in the beatitudes…
Let us be thoughtful this Thanksgiving.
Let us be mindful of friendship, as was our friend Max Coots…
“Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:
For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds and the wind too soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation and fondly remember where their roots are….
For generous friends with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the other, plain as potatoes and as good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels Sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem Artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;
And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.”
by Reverend Max Coots
The Good Earth
Our lessons from ancient Scripture surround us with thanksgiving. The prophet Joel attributes directly to the Lord, in a way we might not in our time, both the weal and woe of natural cycles. Yet his spirit of thanksgiving could not be more evident, as he acclaims gratitude for the good that is given, in pasture and tree and vineyard. Even those of us dwelling mostly in an urban setting can from this autumn—warm, mostly; dry, mostly; pleasant, mostly—receive such a sense of blessing and so a sense of gratitude. Our psalm, very directly, also recalls a dreamlike time of plenitude. Seed-time gives way to harvest, as tears give way to shouts and joy. The long months of hidden growth, of change and development under the earth, are a firm reminder to those who use this psalm that the future will look different from the past, and from the present. Every autumn, every harvest season, we are offered such a reminder. Our epistle lesson in 1 Timothy turns from nature to history, from harvest to governance. As elsewhere in the New Testament, we find here an unsurprising thanksgiving for order. In a prayer recently, we heard the petition that we might serve God ‘with a quiet mind’. Not all order is godly, especially when purchased with the counterfeit currency of oppression and injustice. But Timothy has a point, too. A quiet and peaceable life itself requires order, and when we have such, we are right to give thanks. Especially in the later New Testament writings there is preserved for us a mature recognition of the value in things done ‘decently and in order’. But it is our Gospel, today, that shines most clearly with gratitude, a beatitudinal thanksgiving prayer itself. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given unto you. The body. Birds of the air. Lilies of the field. Reminders of what Marilyn Robinson might call ‘the givenness of things’. Friday night our Inner Strength Gospel choir, fed earlier by the loving care of Marsh Chapel members Cecilia, Sandra, Jerry, Carolyn, Victoria, and Melvena, gave a compelling witness, in the heart of a week of turmoil, to thanksgiving, grateful praise.
Let us be mindful of the good earth, of the fruits of harvest, of the fruits of years of labor and love, as one (Carol Zahm) remembered in the figure of her friend:
Sitting by my window—looking out at the field
This chair has been such a comfort for so many years
All the children were comforted in this chair
All grown and gone now
Babies—growing year after year
‘Til they could go to the field to help
The fields—so green in the spring
Then the plough broke it up into beautiful brown earth
Worked over and over
Until the seeds had a wonderful bed in which to grow
Week after week growing
And then harvest.
We all went to the field for the harvest.
Sunrise to sunset
Day after day
Finished at last
Ready for winter
Now looking across the field at beautiful virgin snow
Like watching a baby sleep. So peaceful.
Happy for the quiet.
Anxious for the awakening
Sitting by my window
The Age of Violence
Her rocking, the rhythm of her remembrance, along the brown earth, seems a world away from our world today.
We have been this past week through a very dark patch. The torrent of images from Paris, and elsewhere, threatens so to inundate as to overwhelm, and then to drown.
Under the aspect of thanksgiving, let us pause for a moment to collect our thoughts, to gird ourselves in faithful cautions.
We will want to be careful to remember that individual choices, to kill say, or to heal, say, are real, they matter, and they count, in the long run. Some one chose to kill in Paris. The bombs were not set by systems, or structures, but by men and women of flesh and bone.
We will want to be clear that for all the structural, systemic and acculturated sources of violence—how potent they are—it is nonetheless an irretrievable, and irremediable, individual choice, to take another’s life, and to take another’s innocent life.
We will want to be somber and sober to remember that God gives the human being a rooted, daily freedom, but does not then suddenly intervene to erase that freedom, however perversely, however violently, however despicably that freedom is used.
We will want to stand up, sit up, and take notice that liberty is only of any value within the constraints of security to enjoy it; and that security is only of any value as a basis for the enjoyment of liberty itself.
As people of faith we cannot in sloth afford to be naïve, refusing the dominical wisdom of serpents to hide underneath a false innocence of doves, when facing hatred, religious terrorism, and nihilistic venom. Protection for the lamb requires resistance to the wolf, before either determines to lie down with the other.
We do not want to pray, preach, sing or proffer a kind of cheap grace that speaks lightly of forgiveness for the murderer, the terrorist, the sadistic extremist. The utter realism of the Bible, on the one hand, and our brutal experience across many centuries, on the other hand, forbid it. Those of us who heard the explosions on Boylston Street in 2013 empathize in a particular way with Paris 2015.
In helping one another, and our children, as one friend has said, we can at least remind them that ‘they are safe, and it is OK to feel sad about what has happened to others’, and we can continue to support and protect our neighbors and friends of all manner of different traditions, religious and secular alike. With a soulful abandon, with a Parisian panache, going forward, we can go forward as a ‘flaneur’ of old, to saunter, to wander, to stroll, to make our own the streets and boulevards of life.
Howard Thurman Gives Thanks
So let us be mindful this Thanksgiving, as was Howard Thurman, who was a hundred years head of his time fifty years ago. His poem:
Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:
My mother’s arms,
The strength of my father
The playmates of my childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives
Of many who talked of days gone by when fairies
And giants and all kinds of magic held sway;
The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the
Eye with its reminder that life is good.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day
I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a simple handshake when I
Feared the step before me in darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest
And the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open
Page when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I pass before me the main springs of my heritage:
The fruits of labors of countless generations who lived before me,
Without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp
And whose words would only find fulfillment
In the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,
The leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,
Whose courage made paths into new worlds and far off places;
The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream
Could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment
To which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared my loves,
My desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence
That I have never done my best, I have never dared
To reach for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind
Will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the
inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the
children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.
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