Sunday, November 29, 2009

More Thanksgiving Reflections...

After writing my reflections on Thanksgiving, I went back to work on Friday. While seeing patients and hearing of their troubles, many of them serious, the thought came to me: all of those words of mine from yesterday are fine and good, but can they stand up in the face of real suffering? Do they really have any meaning when someone is hurting badly? Do they offer hope? And the answer, of course, is no. I cannot give people hope because I am not the Source of Hope. Sometimes when the pain and confusion are bad enough, there are no words that can be offered that will make it feel better, at least in that moment. It occurred to me that to name my blog, "findhope" might seem a bit arrogant as though I thought I had the answers to the despairs people encounter in their lives. Certainly I know that I do not.

However, let me tell a story. I never thought much about the traditional hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God" until sometime a few years ago when I learned a bit of its history. Martin Finkart was a Lutheran minister in Germany during the time of the Thirty Years War. The town to which he ministered was overrun by invading armies three times and there were various plagues through that time period (17th century). After awhile, he was the only minister left in the town and, in 1637, it is said that he sometimes performed up to 50 funerals a day because so many were dying of injury and disease. In fact, that year, he is said to have performed more that 4,000 funerals, including that of his own wife. Yet he was a prolific writer of hymns and he wrote the lyrics to "Now Thank We All Our God". Now, whenever I hear that hymn, I picture this minister, a fellow human being, creating such a thankful hymn and I am stunned. How could he be thankful to God, living through such circumstances? I cannot imagine being willing to keep living after facing such horrors, muchless still believing in God and even thanking him. Obviously, I could try to explain this to myself by saying he must have been a better person than I am. While likely that is true, what I believe to be even more true is that he was given a gift. To still be hopeful, to still be thankful, he must have been given a Gift. It seems that Martin himself knew that he didn't understand it all because he included the line, "guide us when perplexed" in what was essentially a joyful hymn. So he knew he was perplexed, but apparently he didn't expect to find the answer to his confusion in himself or even in another human being.

When we are suffering, the Giver of Gifts may seem to be absent or to have passed us by. So what can we do at such times? The answer that comes to my mind, oddly, is "to be open". To be open to receiving a gift when and where we least expect it. When I wrote earlier that I cannot give people hope, that does not mean that Hope cannot be given through my words or actions - or through yours. I am certain that Martin had no idea that the words of his hymn would still be instilling hope and thankfulness in millions of people (and me) more than 300 years later. I know that often I have almost missed gifts because I was so absorbed in a worry or a dilemma that I simply wasn't open. I was walking to my car, re-analyzing the events of the day, and I almost didn't look up and see the deer bounding away over the hill...  I was looking out the window and almost failed to notice how beautifully golden were those few remaining leaves on the tree in my yard... And there are so many more gifts that I am sure I have missed and never known it because I wasn't open. We may not know how to be open or we may feel too afraid or too angry or too busy to be open - and yet we can learn. Wanting to learn is the first step on the path....

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving, 2009.
Thanks + giving.
It strikes me as important to always be thankful, even when it is hard to find anything to be thankful for. Perhaps it is during the hard times in life that it is most important to give thanks. It is easy to be thankful when it seems like everything is falling into place but, when one feels overwhelmed by disappointments, hurts or feelings of failure, it can seem almost impossible. And yet there is always something to be grateful for. I am grateful that I can see. I am thankful that I can walk. I have clean water to drink. I have someplace to live.....Expressing thanks to other people, even for little things, strengthens our bonds to them as family, friends or fellow human beings. Expressing thanks to God strengthens our bond to that loving Power who is greater than we are. God certainly doesn't need us to thank Him. But we need it. When we are giving thanks, we are turning our focus away from our ongoing complaints about the painful realities of our lives and facing the gifts that we have been given. As we start to look more closely at those gifts, we can begin to consciously accept them. In accepting them, we begin to realize that we are loved by the One who gave them to us. Acceptance of love teaches us how we too can be lovers. What could possibly be more important than learning to love and be loved? What could ever strengthen us more for our journey through life's challenges?

After thanks comes giving. Once we have started down the road of accepting the gifts and the love, we discover that we want to be part of that dance. We want to give and we want to love. We may not think we have anything to give or we may think we don't know how to love. Or we may fear that no one wants what we have to give or that no one will accept our love. The reality is that we are always able to give. No matter how little I have, in a material sense or an emotional sense, I can give. I can smile. I can say a kind word. I can put a bread crust out for the birds. If we are not sure that we know how to love, we can open ourselves to being taught by the Source of Love. It is the desire to love that is important. The learning how comes in time, if we are open to the gift of wisdom. We also cannot worry ourselves too much about whether others will accept or respect our love. Certainly on an interpersonal level it is important to protect ourselves emotionally and physically. I am not suggesting opening one's heart, body or wallet indiscriminately. I am talking more about learning to live life in a loving manner. Sometimes that will mean saying yes, sometimes no and sometimes that will mean not saying anything at all. Taking a step down the path of giving may be, for now, as simple as feeding the birds.

Happy Thanksgiving.