Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another...
And over all these, put on love, that is the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace to which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Colossians 3: 12-13a, 14 - 15
Ever since I was in high school, these words to the Colossians have held great meaning for me... somewhat like a compass or a guidebook. However, I have never found these words very easy to live by. Recently, I've been reflecting a lot about gratitude - not necessarily because of Thanksgiving, but that is a nice coincidence. :)
In the past few months I've invited a few of my colleagues and friends to begin a women's faith sharing group. We're fairly fluid in the way we've organized ourselves, but it's coming together. At our last gathering our focus was cultivating gratitude - how do we build a sense of thankfulness into our lives and live from that? One of the suggestions was to begin a gratitude journal - beginning each day by simply making a list of all the things one is grateful for that day. I did not take up that suggestion, although I like it. It seems to me that if I made a list of everything for which I am grateful, I'd run out of space fairly quickly!
God's blessings have certainly been abundant in my life - supportive family and friends, my community and the Marianist family... opportunities for travel and for education... ministry and service with and for young people... the lessons learned through tears and sorrow... laughter and hikes in beautiful spaces. Yes, I have been abundantly blessed in this life.
I'm sure all of us could recount many experiences and people for which we are grateful. And yet, in our society it is difficult to hold on to that gratitude. Our culture seems set up to make us believe that we do not have enough, we aren't good looking enough, our friends need to be a certain way... basically, that we and our lives are just not enough. There's always something telling us we need to buy this latest thing to make our lives more complete or more worthwhile. Of course, it's all craziness! Yes, there are many people who lack basic necessities and who really do need certain things. However, if we're honest with ourselves many of us who have access to the internet to read this post are not in that circumstance. But, we do have a call to be more like those who go without than to be like our culture encourages us to be.
A reflection I was reading recently states that the beginning of gratitude is recognition of our absolute dependance on God - for it is God who gifts us so abundantly and it is God alone who can bring peace to our restless hearts (and therefore our restless world). And until we realize that all good things come from God and not from the big sales at the mall, true and lasting gratitude will continue to be elusive to us.
Now, one might think that as a religious with a vow of poverty I might be somehow immune from the materialism and consumerism that is rampant in our culture. I do wish that were true! But, I, like you, am human and not perfect. I do, however, recognize it as an issue and when I see it creeping into my life it does bring me to reflect on my vows, on the goodness of God... and then to laugh at my forgetfulness.
May this time of giving thanks be for each of you a time to cultivate deep gratitude... and may you know the abundance of God's love for you.
Blessings to all who read this,