We have so much to be thankful for. So, so much. The problem is, we have so much we sometimes can feel overwhelmed about how to thank God! We practice at Thanksgiving, but giving thanks is truly a spiritual practice that assists us daily…
A spiritual practice, a spiritual exercise, is something you do to help you be aware of the presence of God. Once a year we have the spiritual practice of thanksgiving, and give God thanks. But God is with us more than once a year. We are surrounded on all sides and even inside us.
Some people are able to be aware of God at all times… but most of us have monkey minds. We swing from thought to thought and get distracted. So it is easier for some of us to start smaller… taking our day’s beginning and end to be thankful.
I remember my aunt Joyce telling me to pray before bed and to count my blessings. I’m sure some of you have done this too. I’ve heard people say they wake up and say a prayer before their feet touch the floor — even if it is ‘Good morning and thanks for waking me, Lord.’
But what do you do when you’re counting your blessings and realize you’re up to 50, and then 100, and then… ZzzZZzzz… pretty soon, you either are asleep or you’re in risk of insomnia.
The other problem is that counting our blessings can become routine, boring, and when that happens, we stop doing them.
What great news God isn’t just 1 to 100, or A and Z, but everything in between too. So we can change up our prayers to make them more interesting, and to increase our awareness of all that God provides for us.
For instance, when you start getting bored counting blessings… try starting your day by taking a moment to lie there and think of one something you’re grateful for, for each letter of the alphabet: from azaleas to zinnias, or apples to zebras. Counting can go on forever, but there’s a limit to the alphabet… so it helps when you know you have to get out of bed. You won’t be lying there all day praying thanks… as tempting as that may sound…
John of Patmos, who wrote Revelations, says in his writing that language can’t explain what he’s seen. So he’s trying the best he can, but he saw pictures and felt things… We can pray in this manner too. Instead of words, we can think of pictures and remember feelings. We don’t need to name them or pin them down with the right word.
Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit intercedes, translates, what we pray to God even when that is sighs and silences. A prayer can be the feeling of gratitude and remembering the taste of a warm cup of coffee, the heat on your palms, the brightness of the morning sunrise glinting off the steaming cup, the feeling of peace before your day begins. Memories can be prayer.
For evening, when you’re readying for bed, a memory way to pray thanks for your blessings is to think of a color and pray thanks for everything you saw that day which was that color. For example, Lord – thank you for the color red: red apples, the red cheeks on my grandchildren, the red light on my furnace saying I have heat, the red sunset, the red strawberry jam on my toast this morning, the red blanket keeping me warm right now…
But morning and evening, and indeed, even crossing our hands in prayer, are not the only ways to say thanks.
Rabbi David Cooper wrote God is a Verb. The Hebrew name YHWH, the holy name, is never said by modern Jews. Instead, “Adonai,” the Lord, is said. YHWH, when scholars try to understand what it means and how it could be said, think the name may mean “I Am.” or “I will be.” or “I was.”
The name of God is… IS. Is existence.
Revelations, which was written in Greek rather than Hebrew, reads, “Grace to you from the one who is, and was, and will be.”
In other words, Grace to you from God. From YHWH.
Grace to you from the Verb, the Word, the Action, The Deed, the Love.
Prayers of thanksgiving can be verbs — deeds — too. I think pastor Carol Penner penned it best. She wrote,
“what if thankfulness has nothing to do with lists?
What if thankfulness is more like the difference between night and day,
the difference between being shut in and being free,
the difference between holding on and reaching out?
What if thankfulness is not something to be grasped,
not something that can be simply said, not some thing at all? What if thankfulness is transformation?
A Copernican revolution of the heart,
a re-centering, from our selves to [God’s] Son.
A blossoming, from bud to flower,
all the way to the ripe red apple.
A movement from life to death,
and beyond the grave to resurrection.
What if Thanksgiving is Christmas, Good Friday and Easter all rolled into one.”
I hear her saying how to have prayer in action. Prayer in verbs. This is living in gratitude. So instead of just praying thanksgiving at night or in the morning, or before a meal, it is living thanksgiving.
For example – giving thanks is praying to God thanks for food before you eat your turkey meal. Living gratitude, living in thanksgiving, is picking up an extra food when you go shopping to donate to the food pantry. Or – even inviting others over for your meal. Surely you know someone or more than one who has nowhere to go for thanksgiving? Why not your house!
Giving thanks is lying down for bed and praying thank you to God for the warm spot, warm house, and loving family. Living thanks is helping provide that same gift to others through program like the Columbus Refugee and Immigrant Services. They literally are providing homes and blankets for people fleeing Africa, the Middle East, and South-East Asia. They are helping them become part of our communities here in Ohio.
Giving thanks is a prayer. Living thanks is a life of gratitude.
Both are surely needed.
Thankfulness is like bookends. Prayer on one side, prayer on the other side, life in-between and prayer all through life.
We’re told God is like bookends too. A to Z, beginning and end, like bookends, brackets, holding us in. I kind of picture it like God’s hands are on either side of us, and Jesus is with us – so we’re held into this hug from the sides and above. It’s the same pose a mother hen takes holding her chicks in under her wings. And Jesus says he is like a mother hen. I like to picture and to feel that enclosed feeling of love and protection. It’s one of the things I am thankful for.
John of Patmos’ vision we call Revelations was that in all the chaos, in all the disorder of our lives, the most powerful person – the person with more power than governments, and tyrants, cheaters and lawmakers – is God.
Our lectionary reading gives us the moment a ruler, Pontius Pilate, confronts Jesus and asks him ‘Are you King of the Jews?’ The two banter, trade words, pun one another — but the answer comes down to this: I am king over all who belong to the Truth.
Anyone, everyone, who seeks after Truth, who wants to be Truthful, who wants to belong to Truth… is under Jesus’ rule. This may be Jews, this may be Christians, this may be Muslims or Sikhs or Buddhists.
A few decades later, John of Patmos has a vision of this dominion – and he sees – the whole world is under Jesus’ Truthful rule, and the world — it’s beginning, it’s current age, and its end — are all under God’s rule.
So there is no moment, no place, no time that ever was, is, or will be — that is godless. God is everywhere! As we were told, God is, was, and will be. God is A to Z. Our darkest times and our happiest times, our loneliness and more stressful times, and our most loving and careful times are all bookended, covered, supported, surrounded by God, carried by Jesus, and infused with God’s Holy Spirit.
Nothing is outside of prayer. Nothing is too little or too big for prayer.
A little thank you for clean sheets, a little time to stop and appreciate frost on a leaf, a little prayer in the car, a little pass-it-on deed and donation…
All of these thank yous are a life that testify to knowing God is in every moment of our lives.
Let us thank God for being with us at all times. Let us praise God! Praise God in prayer, praise God in deeds, praise God in how we live and think, play and worship, mourn and die. Let us praise God now and always! Amen.
Given to St. Michael’s UCC, Baltimore, Ohio, 11-22-15