Spirit Alive: The Sacrament of Thanksgiving

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
November 28, 2017

Food for the Soul:

Grounding One's Life in a Spirit of Thanksgiving

"The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring."
James Joyce, Ulysses
Those who know me well, know that I have been influenced deeply by the life and teachings of Dr. Howard Thurman, who was a professor of theology at Howard University, was the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, was the co-founder and lead pastor of the first inter-racial, inter-religious church in America called the Church for the Fellowship of All People in San Francisco, and was the spiritual guide for countless individuals around the world.
Born in 1900, Dr. Thurman was the grandson of slaves, but he was also a pastor, educator,
modern mystic, and preacher. He taught and lectured at over five hundred institutions around the world and wrote more than twenty books about spiritual discovery and inspiration. Dr. Thurman's life sprang forth from a very deep place, and as a result, his life became a "work of art," which can still be discovered in his many prayers, meditations, and writings.

I think about Dr. Thurman often these days as I try to navigate my own way through the division, hostility, and darkness of our times. Howard
Thurman was someone who always had the ability to go deep, while simultaneously finding a grounded way to move forward in the midst of a segregated world...that was often framed by division and bigotry. In the process, he had the ability to share the light of faith and an understanding of what it means to maintain a rich, spiritual life....and in the process discover how to be a loving human being. 

In his book, The Search for Common Ground, Thurman wrote: "I have always wanted to be me without making it difficult for you to be you."
As Thanksgiving week turns toward Advent, I'd like to share one of my favorite Howard Thurman prayers. It appears in his book entitled Meditations of the Heart, and is called "A Litany of Thanksgiving":
Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
I begin with the simple things of my days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For these, I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known:

My mother's arms,
The strength of my father,
The playmates of my childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives of many who talked of days gone by when fairies and giants and all kinds of magic held sway:
The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye with its reminder that life is good.

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:

The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a single handshake when I feared the step before me in the darkness;

The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons, whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places;
The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind;
The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never dared to reach for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel, I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,

Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

May these words from Howard Thurman ground our spirits and guide our journeys as we enter into the Advent Season.
Let us walk in the light of God's love,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.



Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org