‘Tis the season to be grateful. There is some irony that this year, as often happens, Thanksgiving weekend coincides with the First Sunday of Advent: Thanksgiving with its groaning boards of food, community service projects and gaggles of folk traveling, right before a period of half-light, even starkness, waiting in the semi-dark for the promises of God to find fulfillment in the days we celebrate at Christmas.
Yet for me they are inter-twined, because if there is a theological premise that is the central plank of my living and trusting, it is that proposition of the Reformers that God’s Grace is always prevenient, seeking us, loving for us, caring for us, redeeming us, long before it occurs to us to seek for God. Grace exploded into my awareness when I was studying in seminary. Prior to that it has been a dry and rigid construct whose definition I was required to commit to memory: “Grace is unmerited favor.” I am not sure I even thought I knew what it meant, except as an answer on a test. But then as I listened, watched, sensed the stirrings, movement and actions of Grace in Scripture and Life, I joined the community of the faithful who understood that Grace brought freedom and joy, that Grace empowered movement into the places that had seemed musty and forgotten, that Grace was God’s presence and hope in life on the ground that seemed like dead ends.
There were saints from the tradition that articulated Grace for me, Lewis Smedes and Frederic Buechner among them. They gave me words and examples of Grace-filled awareness. Then with a freshly washed lens of Grace, I saw sacred texts with different eyes, seeing anew the way that God’s interaction with humans was first of all Grace-filled. I began practices of Grace in my own life as a student, endeavoring to live and to love by a non-judgmental, truthful, compassionate rule of life, rather than by one which delineated all the rules by which people should be evaluated, treated, drawing clear lines of demarcation and limits. No one was more in desperate need of Grace-full treatment than I was from myself. What were the criteria by which I rated myself as a student, a wife, a daughter, a mother and a person? I found that they had been harsh and dehumanizing, and I became strongly persuaded that if I carried those criteria for myself and others forward into ministry, family and friends, I would continue to do damage, even if I claimed to do it in the name of Christ.
The most accessible practice of grace is gratitude, giving thanks to the Mystery we call God for all that we are given. I discovered it is the only appropriate response to Grace, giving thanks to the One from whom all blessing and life flows. Interestingly, the popular, “spiritual but not religious” market, has also recognized the value of cultivating a grateful heart. Articles and books abound on the values of gratitude in one’s personal life: better health, more resources, happier relationships. And I know some truth in some of those claims. It is my hope that the practice of being thankful takes each one closer to the Heart of the Holy.
However, I am aware that paying attention to Grace as it appears, also develops an sharper awareness of the big gaps in God’s intended reign here on earth- those places of systemic injustice; a continuing rise of poverty and its attendant effects=homelessness, hunger, illness; abuse of power human institutions, including religious ones; myopia about the consequences of the way we use the resources of our natural world. Gratitude is not about being snug and cozy in ourselves each night. It is understanding that since we have such a wonderful Gracious God, we also are given strength, stamina, vision and compassion to keep in bringing in God’ reign.
So as I join in the fun, frenzy and wild thanksgiving of this national holiday for friends and family, I enter with a deep gladness for the Grace that is given to me in myriad media; just this morning, the cloudy sky after rain illuminated my November crop of roses with raindrops on each one. a flock of wrens flew into the tree next door. And I am warm, safe, loved and blessed. But I am also entering into the season with sensibilities turned to the places where Grace does not appear to have reached- those who serve others in stores, in eating places, in military endeavors; those who are imprisoned, either with walls and chains or by attitudes and invisibility, those in pain-from disease or from broken hearts. And I ask, how in this turning of the season am I, like Mary, to be full of Grace, to bring Grace to each one that I meet and seek?
Fill me with You Grace; make me Grace-full!