TO BE THANKFUL IN THE FACE OF IT ALL


TO BE THANKFUL IN THE FACE OF IT ALL

A Homily delivered at the
First Unitarian Church of Providence, Rhode Island

24 November 2013

James Ishmael Ford

Ever since some women figured out how to grow vegetables and grains rather than collect them in the wild, and all that came with this ability, human beings have been celebrating the time of harvest somewhere around this time in the year. And, we are no different.

However we Americans have tied that harvest festival to a semi-historical event that happened up at Plymouth colony. Those who decided to tie our harvest festival to this particular story were trying, I really believe, mostly to show the power of cooperation, of mutuality. Native Americans, however, coming out of a very different experience see that celebration as marking not mutuality, but their genocide.

And so we here, we’ve inherited a deeply shadowed event. A truth not to be turned from lightly.

This season calls us to a deepest reflection, to a deepest knowing, something that includes all our history, of trust and of betrayal. All that. And, it is also a call to something deeper, yet.

Susan Griffin writes of what I believe to be the true heart of thanksgiving. She sings to us, “We know ourselves to be made from this earth. We know this earth is made from our bodies. For we see ourselves. And we are nature. We are nature seeing nature. We are nature with a concept of nature. Nature weeping. Nature speaking of nature to nature.”

She goes on, and calls us to the wise heart, to the heart of thanksgiving.

“The red-winged blackbird flies in us, in our inner sight. We see the arc of her flight. We measure the ellipse. We predict its climax. We are amazed. We are moved. We fly. We watch her wings negotiate the wind, the substance of the air, its elements found in other beings, the sea urchin’s sting, ink, this paper, our bones, the flesh of our tongues with which we make the sound ‘blackbird,’ the ear with which we hear, the eye which travels the arc of her flight.”

All true. All true. And, Susan sings us even deeper.

“And yet the blackbird does not fly in us but somewhere else free of our minds, and now even free of our sight, flying in the path of her own will.”

All of it. Each of us, and all of us. History. Tragedy. Life. Joy. All of it.

Encountering this how can we not be thankful?

It is more rare to be born a human being than to find the most precious diamond in the soil of ancient Africa. Be grateful. This is the mystery. Of course, there is much work to be done. Wounds calling for healing. Injustices that need righting. Much work to be done. But, just for a moment, let us feel our selves as both the fullness and just a part of nature. Let us exult in the joy of it all. Body knowing. Grateful. Wild. Animal. Strange and terrible. Greatful for the words. And grateful beyond words.

To be thankful in the face of all.

Amen.

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  • Ellen Skagerberg

    I’m reading a compelling new biography of the outsider artist
    “Henry Darger: Throwaway Boy.” After a life of childhood poverty and abuse, institutionalization, backbreaking
    toil, pain and debility in old age, he questioned why God never heard
    his prayers.
    Life has been kinder to me, but not as a result of my
    efforts, or prayers, for that matter. Happiness appears to be as random as good fortune, and I suspect enlightenment favors those of stable genetic backgrounds. Choose your parents wisely!


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