|Reflecting on Thanksgiving in a Time of Pandemic by Mark Clarke|
“A great house is open to all – its abundance can heal and restore hope and love. Everyone is blessed.” (Bass, xvii)
Our Thanksgiving holiday is a communitarian experience, a celebration of two profound spiritual words, “Thanks” and “Giving.” It is the traditional American non-sectarian celebration of community. Diana Butler Bass connects the spirituality of giving thanks to both the Thanksgiving holiday and the current pandemic. Butler Bass shows us how to give thanks in a time of pandemic because the pandemic requires that we open our hearts to others in profound ways. The COVID-19 virus has transported us from our comfort zone to a fragile and vulnerable state. We, as a culture, have been forced to take care of ourselves and others. We have been forced by circumstances to create the backbone of being a community.
The virus has taught us a powerful lesson about being defenseless. Without warning, it caused tremendous personal and communal suffering. Our fragility became real when shelves became bare. We panicked when such essential products as toilet paper, produce, and other rations often taken for granted became unavailable. Some people suffered the loss of jobs, income, medical care, isolation, and grief at the death of loved ones. We breathed sighs of relief when necessities became available again and felt moments of gratitude when anxieties lessened for a brief time.
The virus continues to teach us a powerful lesson about being helpless, but our fragility is relieved through the gift of thankfulness. We become thankful when we realize that giving to and sharing with others moves us from helplessness to hopefulness. When we unselfishly share ourselves, we form connections rooted in agape. This Greek word calls us to unconditional love. The pandemic calls us to enter a transformative process that enhances our common bonds through a selfless sharing of God’s bountiful blessings.
This quality of agape is exemplified by truckers, warehouse and grocery employees, domestics, and others who risk their lives for others. Doctors, nurses, and CNAs also place themselves at risk by offering a healing and emotional presence to the vulnerable, scared, and dying. The pandemic has opened our hearts in new ways to recognize these often invisible members of our society. They have offered daily witness and modeling for the broader community. They exemplify the words of the gospel of John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Their commitment and dedication to serving others shows us the power of agape’s selfless love.
In Grateful, Diana Butler Bass cites the words of Melodie Beattie: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life” (154). Over the past months, people who are grateful for their safety and health have lived this statement by dropping off food, calling a senior neighbor, feeding the homeless, and performing similar acts of kindness. These simple acts have replaced a sense of isolation with a feeling of connection
Diana Butler Bass further explores the importance of being thankful: “How we live together in and with gratitude makes all the difference in the world” (49). This Thanksgiving, we are invited to strengthen our community by being committed to sharing God’s gifts. This disposition illuminates the true meaning of Thanksgiving that a life of gratitude brings reconciliation and love to a fragile and vulnerable world. Thanksgiving 2020 will be a celebration of both thankfulness and gratitude.
I wish each of you a very Happy Thanksgiving. Stay safe and well and enjoy the day however and wherever you might be celebrating it!
Barbara McMullen, CDP