Friday, November 23, 2018

Thanksgiving Reflection: Be Grateful Anyway

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

I have always been moved by the prayer attributed to Mother Teresa which lists a series of challenges we human beings encounter in our daily lives followed by rejoinders to continue engaging them “anyway.” I find the list to be true to my experience and, at times, a badly needed encouragement.

When I looked for the prayer today I discovered that Mother Teresa had adapted an earlier work by Kent Keith, a writer and leader in higher education. The original document was called The Paradoxical Commandments and Keith wrote it when a sophomore at Harvard as part of a book for student leaders entitled The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, (Harvard Student Agencies, 1968). Mother Teresa’s adaptation is a prime example of the maxim that imitation is the highest form of compliment.

Both sets of exhortations can be found at this link.

Gratitude in Times of Trial

The last couple of years have been difficult for me. I have struggled to find direction in retirement even as I have found myself constantly preoccupied with handling my late Father’s estate. I find myself mildly depressed at times and anxious to get on with the next phase of my life.

My knees sometimes give me fits and my diet must constantly be adjusted to meet the needs of this aging body. Francis of Assisi called his body Brother Ass reflecting the medieval dysfunctionality surrounding the human body. But at the end of his life, he apologized to Brother Ass recognizing that it, too, reflected the goodness of the creation and deserved better treatment than he had given it. 

I think I know what Francis meant.

The state of the world often troubles me and the nihilistic tendencies in our current political realities frighten and depress me. My heart grieves for those in the path of a Mother Nature no long willing to tolerate humanity’s ongoing abuse of “this fragile Earth, our island home.” (Eucharistic Prayer C, BCP) I know only too well what it’s like to survive a hurricane that can take away your home and a wildfire that can take away your life. Neither are abstract ideas to me.

And yet, I will begin this day attending a Thanksgiving eucharist at my beloved St. Richard’s parish and later celebrate this festival of gratitude with my combined families of birth and choice who will assemble in our beautiful home this afternoon. The joy of this day wrests me away from my preoccupations with the things that trouble my soul and prompts me to look around myself to  be grateful for the many blessings of my life.

With that realization in mind, I was inspired write my own version of the “anyway” exhortations. I offer it here:

Be Grateful Anyway

We live in a time beset by instability, wars, violence. The world our 24 hour news presents us is full of death and depravity, stories designed to drive up ratings and insure consumer spending desperately seeking to fill the voids in our souls. All of this can produce dread and apprehension. And yet the future is never written aforehand. It is quite possible to persist in hope for better days.

Be grateful anyway.

We live in a time of anthropogenic climate change marked by devastating fires, fierce hurricanes, overwhelming winter storms and ever-growing masses of climate refugees. Some of us wring our hands as sea levels climb and extinction rates accelerate while others zealously guard the bounds of their ideological echo chambers praying to preserve a denial increasingly difficult to maintain in the face of reality. Amidst the tumult, our world remains a place of incredible beauty and more than enough providence for a responsible humanity.

Be grateful anyway.

We live in a time of political turbulence deliberately created by demagogues whose contrived moral panics, driven by irresponsible, profit-seeking mass media, serve to control fearful, poorly informed followers. The image of G-d becomes increasingly difficult to recognize on the face of the Other beneath the fearful caricatures that are drawn of them. And yet our slumbering humanity is beginning to stir and the possibilities for fundamental change even now appear on the horizon.

Be grateful anyway.

We live in a time of demographic change, where the cultures in which many of us grew up and took for granted are fading away, replaced by new realities we have never encountered and do not yet know how to negotiate. Change is often frightening and yet change is the only constant in human history. As the dangers to human survival increasingly come into focus, we may yet learn the vital lesson that we are all, indeed, better together.

Be grateful anyway.

We live in a time where the standard of living for most of our children will not exceed, perhaps not even equal, our own.  Our expectations are disappointed, our sense of what is “normal” violated. We find ourselves disillusioned. And yet, most of us live lives in which our most basic needs are routinely met if not exceeded. And we always remain capable of reconsidering the reasonableness of our expectations.

Be grateful anyway.

We live in a time of increasing inequality where the predatory behaviors of those with power make it possible for them to enjoy ever more privilege at the expense of the powerless. Increasing inequalities almost inevitably become the grounds for social instability. And yet, the power to change that reality remains within our hands. There is always hope.

Be grateful anyway.

We live in a time of information overload and sensory overstimulation leaving us confused, distracted and depressed. The siren call of cellular technologies exhort us to "Talk all the time," a practice that leaves little time to listen, much less reflect on what we might actually say. And yet, our behaviors are not a given. Our brains are plastic. We have the capacity to learn to use our technologies responsibly. Let us practice gratitude this day by contacting those whose contributions have made our lives possible and thank them for their roles in making us who we are today.

Be grateful anyway.

Amidst our woes, our fears, our tribulations, our world beckons to us, to recognize it as the beautiful place full of amazing living beings that it has always has been. On this day of Thanksgiving, may we set aside our preoccupations, our fear of things we cannot control, our disappointed entitlements, our unsatisfied attachments, all of which lie at the root of our suffering. And let us remember the many blessings of our lives.

Let us give thanks for those lives we are privileged to share and the many means by which our lives are made possible. Let us remember the ones who have shown us kindness, some of whom have forgiven us when we have failed to do the same. And as we count our blessings, let us not lose sight of those who cannot rejoice this day for whatever reason. May our gratitude fuel our resolve to do whatever lies within our capacities to ease that suffering in whatever ways we can.

 This day, let us be grateful anyway.


Harry Scott Coverston

Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

 © Harry Coverston 2018


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