Take a Break for Faith Podcast Transcript
Take Five for Faith monthly meditation podcast—Gratitude.
Welcome to your Take Five monthly meditation. This month’s theme is “Gratitude."
Let’s begin with a story called “A Note of Thanks” that will help us settle in.
My Aunt Lee, who lived overseas for 25 years, sent all of her nieces and nephews the most marvelous Christmas presents each year—dolls from Japan, Germany, and the Azore Islands, Aran sweaters from Ireland, silver from England, jewelry from France, leather from Morocco. The large gift-filled box usually arrived around Thanksgiving. It was agonizing to stare at those individually wrapped presents for four weeks. They were the first we'd open on Christmas day. Then like clockwork on December 26, Mom would make us write our thank-you notes, and she'd post them to Aunt Lee the next day.
It was all of a piece, the joyous arrival of the gifts, the waiting, the unwrapping, the thank-you notes. Mom integrated gratitude into the whole process. I thought that was what every child was taught until years later when I was talking to a friend of mine who sent her nieces and nephews gifts each Christmas. "Oh," I said, "they must love getting your gifts"—like my aunt, my friend has a knack for finding unique and thoughtful gifts.
"I wouldn't know," she replied, "in 20 years they've never sent me a thank-you note or even acknowledged the gifts in any way, except to say they'd received them. I decided to stop sending them."
How sad for them, I thought. Our aunt's gifts kept coming.
Let’s move more deeply into our theme of "Gratitude" with a reflection on the value of giving thanks.
Back in 2002, one of the funniest movies of the year was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This warm and loving story of a family’s efforts to maintain their Greek heritage is punctuated throughout with the family patriarch’s insistence that every single word in the English language can be traced back to a Greek word or expression. He even manages at one point, with some hilarious mental gymnastics, to give the “Greek root” of the word kimono.
He would probably have been hard-pressed to find the Greek origins for the word Thanksgiving, although he certainly would have given the Greeks, not the pilgrims and Native Americans, credit for the feast!
But there is an ancient Greek word that meant “thanksgiving.” That word is eucharist. In the first few centuries of the church, this was the name we used for the Mass, because it was understood to be a meal of thanksgiving. The Second Vatican Council tried to restore the word to our liturgical vocabulary because it is still the best way to describe what we gather together to do.
The word reminds us of the power of giving thanks, for it is in eucharist, in thanksgiving, that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus. This is the tremendous potency of giving thanks: It transforms everything for which we give thanks.
Consider this. You wake up to a gray, dismal, rainy morning. It is a steady downpour, the kind destined to last all day. Even the sheets feel damp as you roll out of bed. Your attitude toward the weather is about to set the tone of your day. You may think about the golf game or tennis match that are cancelled, the rush-hour traffic that will be so much worse with the addition of wet streets and fog, the extra clothing the kids are going to need for school or the ride they will need to the bus stop, the mud that will come home with everyone. Each of those thoughts is capable of souring the whole day.
Or your first thought might be of the drought the area has been having and the wonderful gift this rainfall will be. The grasses are going to get green again, the reservoirs are filling even as you wake, the water restrictions may be called off, and the farmers may be able to save their crops after all.
Outwardly, nothing has changed. The outdoor activities still need to be cancelled. The traffic will still be a mess. There will be more wet clothes, more mud, more work. But something has changed—your attitude. The overwhelming emotion with which you greet the day is gratitude, and gratitude transforms everything. You have decided that this is a good day; the rain, but especially your gratitude for the rain, has made it so.
Gratitude not only transforms that for which we give thanks, it transforms the one who does the thanking. When we give thanks, we acknowledge the gift in everything. We see ourselves, not as entitled to what has happened, but as the recipient of a gift, a grace. When we teach our children to say “Thank you,” it is not just because it is the polite thing to do. We want them to recognize the gift is not their prerogative, they have no claim on it. Gracious people are those who expect nothing and so receive everything with gratitude.
We are transformed by our thanksgiving from being powerful and in control to humble and in need. And so our thanksgiving becomes eucharist, a giving thanks that transforms.
A mother walked in on her two-and-a-half- year-old daughter “celebrating Mass.” The little girl had a red scarf around her neck and a small brass candlestick and white plastic plate on the tiny table before her. Her mother waited quietly as she lifted the plate and said, “This is my body.” When she was all finished, her mother asked if she had hoped to change the plate into Jesus.
“Oh, no,” the child answered quickly. “Change me into Jesus.”
Her mother was about to correct her when she realized just how right her little one was. What difference would it make whether we change the bread and the wine if the people who celebrated with the bread and the wine are not transformed?
We celebrate to remind ourselves to approach every day with gratitude, to receive everything as gift.
Let’s continue with a brief meditation on giving that moves us forward.
“Love one another.” “Forgive everyone.” “Give to those who cannot repay you.” These sayings of Jesus seem like a lot of hard work with little reward. But nothing could be further from the truth. Have you ever left a large tip for a tired waitress or waiter? Or put money in an expired parking meter you happened to walk by? Or smiled at a store clerk who was having a difficult day? Such gestures generate feelings of gratitude and well-being that don't come any other way. If we spent only a few minutes every day thinking of a small gift we could give to someone—especially someone who is not likely to return the favor—just imagine how our world would change! Try it today—then do it again tomorrow.
We’ll close our reflection with this month’s “Scripture to Live By,” which comes from Colossians, chapter 3, verse 15:
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace." And be thankful!
This concludes our Take Five monthly meditation on gratitude. We hope you have enjoyed it and we welcome your comments and feedback. You can find us at takefiveforfaith.com and on Facebook. Thank you for joining us this month and have a blessed day!
Music: Wandering from Music For Podcasts 2 by Lee Rosevere (Creative Commons license).