Saying Thanks in a Time of Pandemic
In everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Faith in a time of pandemic is grounded in the interplay of gratitude and sacrifice. Life has changed. Our lives are more circumscribed than last year. We may not be traveling and if we have Thanksgiving dinners, they may involve fewer family members than last year. We can easily see this as lost time and lament our changed situations. Yet, in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of the
Thanksgiving holiday during a time of war, we still can focus on the time-tested virtues in a world of change. Time tested virtues that remind us to give thanks in every thing.
Saying thanks is essential in every season of life. As Dag Hammarskjold asserts, “For all that has been – thanks.” We recognize the ambiguities of our pilgrim parents’ first celebrations and the realities of genocide in relationship to the First Americans who greeted them. We need to repent the corporate injustice upon which our nation was built. Still, gratitude for what we currently experience inspires widening the circles of justice to embrace those who have been wronged by our ancestors.
During this time of pandemic, we are sustained by the efforts of others. With the spike in COVID cases, we must give thanks for health care workers and scientists. Our thanksgiving needs to inspire ethical conduct – paying attention to science and simple commonsense health practices to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
As we enjoy our bounteous feasts, we need to remember those whose efforts ensure our celebrations and daily sustenance. When I said “thank you” the other day to a store clerk at the grocery store I frequent, she was amazed. “No one says thank you,” she noted. We need to give thanks for every hand that touches our food whether in fields, farms, packing plants, trucking, and so forth. I take seriously the words of friend who noted, “Immigrant farm workers feed us despite the Coronavirus epidemic. They deserve better.” Those words provoked me to ponder all those persons, whether citizens or not, documented or not, who support us every day. How will we thank them after the pandemic is over? Certainly, fair and swift pathways to citizenship and citizenship to Dreamers (DACA) is in order.
Thanksgiving is the virtue of connection and affirmation. When we are thankful, we are affirming that we need others and that our lives depend on the efforts of others. Our successes are corporate not just individual. In this spirit, Meister Eckhardt asserted that “if the only prayer you can make is thank you, that will suffice.”
There are practices of thanksgiving that should be central to our lives in season and out. We need a spirituality of gratitude. In his thanksgiving counsel, Eckhardt was thinking, first, about God. But God comes to us in the hands and feet of others. We can thank God for the universe, the way of Jesus, the grace that surrounds us, and the insights that guide us, and we should throughout the day!
Thanking God means thanking others as well. This morning I give thanks for – medical personnel, letter carriers, first responders and law enforcement officers, farm workers and grocers, pharmacy staff, military, friends and family, good books, my computer, social media, internet, and Zoom, and for you who read this, and that’s just the beginning. For whom are you thankful? Whom among the forgotten or scorned in society are you grateful?
Following his great “thanksgiving,” Hammarskjold affirms, “for all that shall be – yes.” Thanksgiving leads to the great “yes.” To open-spirited and generous living and acting. Today, the great “yes” involves willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. Gratitude liberates us from self-interest and inspires us to world loyalty and care for others, friend and stranger alike. Today gratitude means sacrificing convenience for the survival of others. For those who have received much, wearing a mask and practicing safe behaviors is a small sacrifice. Responsibility in worshipping, gathering, entertaining, and going out is embodied in placing responsibilities to the greater good ahead of individualistic rights. Of course, sacrifice goes further than mask wearing. It embraces generosity to food banks, feeding programs, and support persons at risk through housing, food, and educational insecurity. It involves living more simply so others may simply live as Gandhi and Ann Seton counsel. It involves committing to structural transformation, including willingness to pay higher taxes to support vulnerable people.
Thanksgiving will change your life and your ethics. It will transform your citizenship. Thanksgiving is an antidote for impatience and grumpiness. So pray, reach out and say “thanks” to those who make our lives better, and let your words be those of lovingkindness.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For all good gifts and life itself. Let me sow seeds of gratitude and kindness throughout the day. Amen.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over fifty books including FAITH IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC,HOPE BEYOND PANDEMIC, PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM, 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR GRANDPARENTS WORKING FOR A BETTER WORLD, and PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS.