Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November 21, 2007 - Just Give Thanks

Tonight’s Thanksgiving Eve. Unlike all my earlier Thanksgiving Eves at this church, I’m sitting at home, rather than leading a worship service.

That’s because the Session, our congregation’s governing board, decided some months ago to cancel this year’s Thanksgiving Eve service. (We moved our Thanksgiving focus to the previous Sunday’s worship service, instead.) The numbers of Wednesday-evening worshipers had been dwindling for years. When we reached the point where there were fewer people in the pews than in the choir loft (many of those people being family members of the singers), we decided it was time to bag this many-decades-old tradition. The people had voted with their feet long before. The times they are a-changin’.

I was reluctant to cancel it, myself. Of all the special worship services we offer throughout the year, the Thanksgiving Eve service has always been one of my favorites. It was simple, low-key, and somehow pure. No Santa Claus or Easter Bunny hanging around the edges of people’s consciousness. Just give thanks, that’s all.

But, we’ve been facing increasing pressure from the burgeoning football- related activities from Point Pleasant Beach High school next door. When school officials moved the homecoming parade from late afternoon to evening, several years ago – blocking nearby streets and using them as the staging area for the floats – that meant on-street parking places were at a premium. Here in the suburbs, folks think having to walk a couple of blocks is a terrible inconvenience. Numbers were dwindling for other reasons, besides. Some of our regulars were traveling, and others were stressed out about getting pies into the oven for the next day’s feast.

I think the Session made the right decision: but, still, I miss it. I miss it especially because I think giving thanks is therapeutic. It moves our attention away from ourselves and our complaints, and onto God.

The Japanese poet Issa is considered to be among the greatest writers of Haiku. Issa’s very last poem was discovered in 1826, written on a scrap of paper under the pillow of the bed on which he’d just died. It was winter, and Issa had been sleeping in a crumbling storage shed, after his own house had burned down. Here’s what he wrote:

There are thanks to be given:
this snow on the bed quilt -
it too is from Heaven.

I don’t know what they wrote on Issa's tombstone, but it could very well have been, “Here lies a happy man.”

There have been snows falling in my life, as well – the chilling awareness of the cancer within me. My spiritual growing edge is in learning to give thanks even for some of the experiences that cancer is bringing into my life.

Another great poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, experienced his share of suffering: he died a slow death of tuberculosis. Here’s some advice he once gave:

“The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.”

A profound sentiment, and an example for us all. Happy Thanksgiving!

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.”

- Psalm 9:1

1 comment:

Stushie said...

Better to give thanks cheerfully and sincerely, Carl, than to do it dutifully and grudgingly.

Why not prepare a special prayer for your people to read and say in their own homes, or just before they travel to be with distant realtives?

You're the theologian in residence, Carl - help them find the right prayer.