If you are like me, you have lots of thoughts and tasks and not enough hours in a day to manage them. It seems you are always going somewhere and end up getting nowhere. You look forward to “downtime” and days off only to find that such time becomes filled with all of the things you pushed off until then or is made up of extraneous obligations brought on by the occasion in the first place.
The so-called “holiday season” seems to be filled with the latter of these. In adulthood, the magic that surrounds the season can erode into a massive stressor for already hectic lives to the point where it can become increasingly difficult—if not downright impossible—to enjoy ourselves, much less truly appreciate the meaning behind our festivities.
I am not going to go beyond mentioning the consumeristic politics that seem to drive this “sideways energy” of the season and continually push the preparations for it earlier and earlier into the year. Despite the inundation, that is something that can easily be ignored.
What I would rather discuss is how, amidst all of the pressure and responsibilities, we can get at the heart of our holiday and truly celebrate it. Let’s stuff our spirits as well as our stomachs!
When we are busy, special occasions like Thanksgiving can have a way of sneaking up on us. All of the sudden that important date, which seemed so far away, is right in front of us and we may find ourselves scrambling at the last minute. The busier we are, the greater chance for this, and it seems that every year it gets busier.
The simple solution to this, which is not so simple in practice, is to stop and ponder, not just plan. Now, I know what you are thinking, “of course that is what the ‘church girl’ would say.” And, yes, I will admit that my worldview naturally and necessarily incorporates a contemplative perspective. It is the mark of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (think Mary vs. Martha in Luke 10:38-42). And, truthfully, whether consciously realized or not, this relationship is the only way to experience life’s celebratory moments to the full.
This is because the source of true happiness, joy, peace, love, etc. comes from the Eternal, comes from God. Everything else is an imitation, a reflection of the one true source of light in our lives. And while we always hear about Jesus being the “reason for the season” (more on that in my Christmas post), you might be wondering, “what does the faith of the Catholic Church have to say about Thanksgiving, which is a civic holiday?”
Truthfully, Thanksgiving is less about the pilgrims and Native Americans we learned of in school and more about gratitude. It is also about generations, as each culture and generation has a different reason to be grateful and a different way of expressing such gratitude. And this gratitude, this expression of thanks, this thanksgiving, has everything to do with the Catholic faith (and the faith of the entire Judeo-Christian heritage for that matter).
In fact, there are so many examples of God and gratitude in our scriptures and Tradition that this is hardly the place to list them. For now, let’s just stick with the basics to get at a deeper understanding of gratitude. After all, you are a busy person!
So, let’s do a little reflecting. We are probably all familiar with the idea of going around our Thanksgiving table and saying one or a few things for which we are grateful. Perhaps, for some of us, that is a long-standing tradition. Our Thanksgiving prayers include reflecting on our blessings – taking a moment to consider them deliberately rather than take them for granted. For some of us, this can be a delightfully easy exercise, and if you are one of them, consider that a blessing and go back to your holiday preparations.
For the rest of us, we may find it hard to tap into this verbally or even muster up a true feeling of gratitude. This is not to say that we are not thankful on some level; rather, we have something standing in the way of our connection to the Eternal, something obscuring our relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe it is just that we are super busy, or maybe there is something more going on. What I am going to say, is that, in the midst of whatever it is, gratitude, though harder to attain, is much more meaningful when we do.
I started this noting how I am a busy person. I will add to that and say that this year has been a fairly rough one for me and I am looking forward to it ending. There are many people I know who feel similarly. The way I have managed to see beyond the issues facing me is to grasp onto the joyous moments in between. Even though the problems have created an underlying muted atmosphere to the happier moments of the year, the fact is that there is no tragedy so big or matter of adversity so large that the love of God cannot break through it.
God cannot solve our problems directly, but he can give us a spirit of peace, love, and courage to overcome them. And, when we hold on to those moments, we can recall his goodness and muster up the gratitude to fight through additional darkness. It is a profound spiritual exercise that requires our deliberate attention and insistence.
When God rested on the seventh day and contemplated all of his creation, he did not simply refer to it as “good,” but as “very good.” His Sabbath—our Sabbath—is about stepping back from the tasks that occupy our attention and to appreciate all things for what they are. Eucharist, which is celebrated at mass, and is the principal way we honor the Sabbath, means “to give thanks.” Once we have stopped for a moment in contemplation, we can develop an appreciation, which leads us into a sincere gratitude, not just for what it is we have become grateful but also for the enhanced understanding and wisdom that has come along the way.
When we pause and rest, we are not moving into a mode of inactivity, rather, our activity is becoming internalized, directed inward and upward rather than outward. Our “sideways energy” has the potential to be transformed into a conduit of the Spirit, who is the arbiter of all beauty as he is the one who breathes life into all things.
So, this Thanksgiving—indeed, all holiday season long—seek contemplation amidst the bustle of your active life. Find a way to look at all you are doing and not just see it as “good,” but, through the eyes of God, see it as “very good.” Lastly, meditate on the words of Ephesians that say:
Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making. the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5:15-20).
God Bless and Happy Thanksgiving. Amen.