Thanksliving: A Reflection from the Chair of the Parliament of the World's Religions

During the Thanksgiving weekend, we visited extended family in Southeastern Oklahoma. Tucked into the moments of hearty laughter, warm hugs, delicious food, and exaggerated storytelling there was one experience that warrants serious reflection.

It happened on Sunday, when we visited a rural Baptist church. Forty or fifty people from the community were gathered in the modest sanctuary—individuals of all ages seated next to families with young, squirming children, a collection of farmers and ranchers, small town store clerks and school teachers, people of unquestioned sincerity and unsophisticated faith. They sang their songs with enthusiasm yet a bit off-key; they stood and gave personal testimony of why they were thankful to God; they bowed their heads as someone prayed for safety for their congregation and peace in the world. It was a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, not too different from the way the morning began three weeks earlier at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

While the picture of confidence and calm inside the church was memorable, even more striking to me was the modest marquee in front of the building, which read: “It’s time for two actions—thanks and giving.” Driving around in the Bible Belt South, I’ve certainly seen a lot of pious platitudes and simplistic warnings on church signs. But this one was both pithy and theologically profound.

Gratitude and generosity are natural during this holiday season, although they are appropriate not just now, but throughout the year.

We need to express our gratitude, to give thanks, to acknowledge that some Power or Someone beyond ourselves has conspired for our good. We should look around us and never fail to say thank you to the persons in our lives whose sacrifice, example, and help have enriched us and enabled us to succeed. We ought to take multiple opportunities to echo, in our own ways, the powerful words of the African Ubuntu tribal philosophy that says, “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

We also must exhibit our generosity, to share our bounty, to recognize that there are so many people around us who need our sacrifice, example, and help. We have to look around us and never fail to consider ways that we can enrich others and enable them to succeed, whether through advocating for their equal opportunities or addressing the unfair conditions that hold them back.

If we can become persons who exercise both gratitude and generosity routinely, then we could make a remarkable impact upon the places we inhabit. We will not just be exchanging warm hugs or hearing hearty laughter at Thanksgiving celebrations. Instead, we will be practicing daily Thanksliving—embodying a way of being in the world that truly honors the Divine and cares about the neighbor. What a Norman Rockwell painting that would be!


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