By Pastor Harry S. Stephenson, Chaplain at Hudson Hospital & Clinic
Thankfulness is a very broad concept since we each have a unique perspective on those things in our life for which we express our thanks; if each of us filled in the blank for the following declaration, "I am thankful for____ , we would all come up with a different list because each of us is defined by a personal set of beliefs, different personal experiences and the distinctive season of life in which we now find new meaning—gain a different view—to what happens in us and around us.
For example: Some people see life as being "better than other people have it," while others see life as unfair, wondering why, why, why, difficult things have happened or continue to happen to them. Some may find it is difficult to recognize anything for which to be thankful this time of year. And I am so sorry if this is what some of you are experiencing because life is not fair, never has, nor will it ever be. But the unfairness of life does not have the final say; there is more to life than difficult human experiences, more to life than trying to discover a reason to be thankful on that day of the year we call Thanksgiving.
Permit me to offer a different spin on what it means to be thankful.
There are two divine names used in Scripture, one theological and the other emotional; the Hebrew word for God ("Elohim") describes the acts of the Sovereign God whose creation of the world by decree, and, through this is intentionally disclosing Himself to us through Creation.
The other divine name is the Hebrew word for Lord ("Yahweh") describing the activity of the creator who, by means of His covenant, is investing Himself in the world He has created; not as separate events but as simultaneous acts where creating leads to the disclosing, which, in turn leads to investing.
The theological significance of God investing in His creation reveals one of the great mysteries of humankind; the supreme God is both the one who is far away, as well as the One who chooses to draw near; ascribing unceasing and unconditional love to all humanity. As we gain a deeper understanding of the degree and the scope with which God loves all humanity, of the Transcendent God riveting His attention on each person as though he or she was the only human on earth, we begin to respond more fully with a heart of gratitude, with thankfulness beyond human comprehension for a His inexplicable transforming presence.
For us, today, Thanksgiving is usually the day we give thanks for those things bestowed upon us that we might otherwise take for granted other days of the year. And during this time of year we remember stories of the "First Thanksgiving" when English settlers and First Nation people's gathered to give thanks for a good harvest.
Imbedded within this story is an untold story from which we can glean one important truth about thankfulness. This untold story is shared by a contemporary member of the Wampanoag , the ancestral First Nation tribe who reached out to the pilgrims on their day of giving thanks, who explains, ".. For the First Nation Wampanoag, we view thanksgiving as a state of being; it's a desire to live in a state of thanksgiving, meaning that you use the creativity that the Creator gives you to help others every day."
Indeed, the unfairness of life does not have the final say. Instead as we ponder the significance of the Thanksgiving story we better understand that being thankful is found in living a life of gratitude; transcending life's circumstances and being transformed by the goodness around us, by life itself, by focusing on the simple things like the beauty of creation, the gift of a friend or a family member. Perhaps living a life of gratitude may also be described as being a gift to others.
May this season of the year be filled with the transcending and transforming power of thankfulness.