Thanksgiving is always about bounty, cornucopia, an overflowing with excess. Yet many of us are not feeling cornucopian these days. For some few at the top the bounty is flowing, but the rest of us are still struggling. We’re not feeling the Thanksgiving.
In the gospels Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . . Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them.”
Really? I’m supposed to be thankful that I have enough to eat and a shirt on my back? This sounds like basic survival! Where’s the great thanksgiving in that?
It’s the kind of response you’d expect from someone living in a culture of More. Just having enough to live isn’t enough. Life isn’t enough. Jesus says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, “Isn’t there more to life than all the stuff we spend all our time frantically grasping for?” More things to satisfy all our hungers, more things to clothe, to adorn ourselves, our lifestyles. Jesus says, When you spend all your time trying to get all that stuff, you miss life.
We’re like the two old friends who bumped into one another on the street one day. One of them looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears. His friend said, “What’s wrong?”
The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“But, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand free and clear.”
“Sounds like you’ve been blessed….”
“You don’t understand!” he interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million.”
Now he was really confused. “Then, why do you look so glum?”
The man said, “This week… nothing!”
That’s what happens when we found our happiness on a kind of entitlement. This is the level of happiness, and when it drops below this—we’re not happy! So many people are there right now.
This is tough. I know first-hand. I ask myself, “Where does my happiness lie?” And I’m forced to admit that it’s based on things—even if I consider myself a person of modest means, it’s still things—and not, as Jesus says, life itself. “Is not life more than food? The body more than clothing?” Can we be happy just for daily bread, daily breath?
David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, says that abundance “is not measured by what flows in, but by what flows over. The smaller we make our vessel of need, the sooner we get the overflow we need for delight.” So keep your vessel small, easily filled to overflowing. It’s the opposite of the entitlement mentality, the opposite of the culture of More.
I wish you all a wonderful, overflowing Thanksgiving. And remember, as the German mystic Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer we ever make is ‘Thank you,’ it will be enough.”