In his book Jayber Crow Wendell Berry tells the story of a town barber and his journey towards vocation. After a devastating flood Jayber finds himself waking up in a shelter, safe, dry, and comfortable. After such a night he felt the need to thank someone, he was so overwhelmed by being safe, finding shelter, finding a sort of home on that terrible night that he was “captured by gratitude.”
Once again we will gather around tables, with family and friends, to feast! Feasting is a wonderful way to expresses our comfort and celebrate the ways that we have been blessed in this past year. The stories we share are also important. The stories remind us that we are connected and that in spite of the happenings of the year we have been blessed, we have each other!
As we gather this year I am reminded that there is a difference between being thankful and gratitude. Saying thank you can be an automatic response, a polite way to acknowledge another. We say thank you all of the time, to our children, co-workers, and to the person at the cash register. I believe gratitude is is a state of being. A basic posture of our lives as people. Its the realization and internalization that everything is a gift. The air we breath, the creation that we enjoy, the relationships that we have. This realization helps us recognize our interconnection, our common humanity, our connection to all of creation.
I wonder what it would take for us on this thanksgiving to be “captured by gratitude?” We hear of the continued economic struggles, the high unemployment, the break of cholera in places like Haiti. We also hear about the continued war in Afghanistan, the slow referendum in the Sudan, and the continued partisan wars in our country. All of these things could easily be the rising waters of a flood, where is our shelter?
Just the other day a group from my congregation was frying turkeys to feed a group of college students a thanksgiving feast. We were busy watching turkeys, talking and drinking our coffee. Out of nowhere comes this man asking for “prayer,” this stranger had already been kicked out of a few places and was angry, embarrassed, and defensive. A few of us engaged him in conversation and soon pain and disappointment took the place of the anger and defensiveness. After prayer the real need came to the surface, a need for food and shelter, “just for the night.” When we said that we could help him, that we could feed him a warm meal and put him up for the night, his demeanor changed completely. He could not believe it . . . he was captured and we were captured also.
Time and time again Jesus called us to love each other, to provide for each other, to respect each other. Time and time again he took the little, broke it, blessed it, and gave it and it was enough! In times of difficulty our common humanity provides us with the shelter that we need to weather the storms of life. We lean on each other, sometimes lean on the graciousness of strangers, to help us carry on. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said that he would be with us always?
This thanksgiving may we go beyond saying thank you, may we open our eyes to the abundance in our lives and find ways to share this abundance with others. In other words may the people of God become the shelter for the many that are facing the rising waters of life, may we be captured by gratitude as we capture others!