Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope today is a wonderful day of food, family, friends and giving thanks for everyone. Here at the Monastery it is like a Sunday. We are having conversation at breakfast, Morning Prayer isn’t until 9 and we have a special booklet for Office. Mass will be like on Sunday. The tables are all specially decorated and we will be giving thanks for the wonderful cooks who spoil us with amazing food.

As we give thanks for what we have and work to alleviate the plight of those who don’t have enough and seek to change the structures of injustice, I have been thinking about what Thanksgiving means from a Benedictine perspective.

In the Rule Benedict doesn’t have a lot to say explicitly about thanksgiving, but I think it permeates monastic life. In chapters 19 and 20 on prayer we are reminded that God is always watching us. While that may initially evoke some feelings of dread among those of us with guilty consciences, I don’t think that is the intent. If we know God as the source of our being, of goodness, who created and sustains all that is, we have a very different feeling about God’s omniscience. God is always with us, around us, caring for us, providing for us. Even on the worst days when we are living out the cursing Psalms and we are deeply angry at God, we know on a deep level that God is present. To be a monastic, oblate or cenobite, is to live in this awareness of God’s presence, knowing that we are upheld and sustained by the God and that we express God’s love to one another.

Thanksgiving is also about humility. For most of us there will come a time when we realize we are not the center of the universe and that we aren’t really in control. We may have times when God feels far away, when it is hard to pray, when we feel unworthy of all the graces we have been given. In the midst of these difficult experiences there is an opening. In these struggles we are humbled. We are reminded of our limitations, our longing for God that may not feel fulfilled. We have to face our questions, doubts and frustrations of faith. These experiences that may stretch us almost to the breaking point are also the breaking points that allow God to be present. God can now be with us on God’s terms, not just according to how we want to know God. This is a deep experience of humility. We can finally come before God in thanksgiving, grateful for all that we have been given, not necessarily how we thought things should be but completely open and aware that that all we have is gift.

I suspect that for Benedict presumption is the enemy of thanksgiving. There seems to be nothing in the Rule that causes Benedict to become more incensed than presumption. It makes sense if you think about it. Presumption is a form of arrogance, we think we know what’s best, that we get to be in charge and control. Presumptuousness is all about entitlement rather than gratefulness. It might be something for us to think about this Thanksgiving as we look at what we presume in our life. Do we presume that we are entitled to all that we have, all that we are given? Do we come to the table this year in humble awe and gratefulness? Do we give ourselves permission to simply be still, silent and thankful for the God who surrounds us and enfolds us with care? Do we give thanks for the gift of family, friends, community, all those who mediate God’s presence to us through their care, support and love?

As I reflect today I will give special thanks for the gift of community, of all those who are part of our lives and are a gift to us.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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