Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

The earliest date in November upon which Thanksgiving can fall is the 22nd – as is the case here in 2012. November 22 is a date of tragic resonance, as people my age and older recall precisely where they were and how they felt when they heard the news of the assassination of President Kennedy.

A few weeks ago I read Stephen King’s intriguing novel, 11/22/63, which imagines a time traveler going back to try to prevent JFK’s killing. Without giving the plot away, the outcome is theologically interesting, and profound. We might wish to rewind our lives and change a few things, and divert the plot of our life in a different direction. But who can know then how things would really turn out?

Johannes Tauler, a 14th century German mystic, wrote that when we think we could have changed things for the better in our lives, we foolishly fantasize that we are in control of our own lives – and show we do not trust God. More importantly, if we are fixated on regrets, and what-ifs, then we can never be grateful.

The posture of thanks is the liberating gift God offer us when we look into the past. We could bemoan hurts we’ve endured or missteps we’ve made, or we can choose gratitude, to see the goodness of God, the mercy and continuing care of God through every circumstance. Then, if we can get the hang of gratitude instead of regret when looking back, we can look forward, not with anxiety or fear, but in hope and joyful anticipation.

Certainly we have made a mess of things, and fallen woefully short of what God dreams for us. Mae West, the sultry actress (who incidentally also died on November 22!), once wryly said “I was pure as the driven snow until I drifted.” We have drifted.

Or more optimistically, we might say we have shrunk God’s magnificent vision for our lives down to something we can manage – but how sad! C.S. Lewis, whose death on November 22, 1963, went unnoticed in the wake of JFK’s shooting in Dallas, wrote that our problem is not that our desires are too strong; instead our desires are too weak. God wants us to desire very much indeed, to crave things like fulfillment, ultimate purpose, loving belonging, and eternal glory; sadly we settle for less, for cheap wares like money, pleasure, and attention.

The Thanksgiving God dreams for us is not being glad we have money, comfort, much food or HDTV. God wants us to be grateful for far more: life, the breath you just took, eyesight, God’s merciful forgiveness, the colors of Autumn, the wisdom of God, the glory of Jesus crucified and risen, the tenacity of the Church and the stirring of the Holy Spirit, love wherever it appears, and hope for a future no matter what we may suffer in this life.

So this week, let us look back, and look up, and thank God in expansive ways, for the really grand things – even as unspeakably all-enveloping as God’s presence, and unquenchable love for all of us.