Grateful Hearts: Four spiritual leaders share thoughts on being thankful
In light of all the “bad” news we get daily — reports of war and terrorism; numbers on bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment; revelations of trusted leaders found corrupt; stories of crimes against children; public health scares; videos of earthquakes and hurricanes — many people are drowning in pessimism.
To offset the gloom with an eye on the approaching holidays of light, these messages were culled from four local faith leaders to help us realize that we still have much to be thankful for – no matter our spiritual base. As the sage writer Aesop wrote thousands of years ago, “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.”
Why a Grateful Heart?
By Rabbi Michael Berk
Congregation Beth Israel
Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday. The decorations we use for it are symbols of our plenty, signs of an abundant harvest. But the reality of life is that abundance is far from the condition faced by too many people in our world. We could literally toss darts at a world map and one out of three would hit a spot of famine, disease, or disaster.
It is so easy to become complacent, to believe that we are special, and we are blessed; to disconnect ourselves from others. It’s so easy to tell ourselves that since life is good for us, then all must be well with the world. Those bloated bellies we see in newspapers and on our televisions are not here, and they are not new, and oh well, what can I do, and besides, I have my own thanksgiving holiday to prepare for.
So I think the most basic message of thanksgiving is: Prepare your thanksgiving feast, but be mindful that others have little or nothing to put on their tables. Be sensitive to the universal condition. There will always be poor folks and there will always be starvation and there will always be people in need. Be mindful of that, and be sensitive. As we prepare our feasts, let’s not forget to put aside a bit for others.
Thanksgiving ought to remind us to take care of those who have less than we do, but not just because we have abundance. In the Jewish tradition, even the poor are supposed to give charity. In the Bible we are told that anyone who owns a field must always leave a corner of it unharvested for the poor and the stranger. No matter what our circumstances, Judaism expects us to be grateful for what we have, and to express that gratitude by being kind to others. That is, we are all supposed to enjoy our thanksgiving feasts, but be mindful that others have nothing, or little, to put on their thanksgiving tables.
The psalmist wrote:
“It is good to give thanks to God;
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.
To proclaim Your goodness in the morning;
And Your faithfulness at night.”
A Grateful Heart – Then and Now
By Rev. James E. Rafferty, M.Div.
Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church
Thanksgiving Day is a holiday to express thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation to God. I cannot help but wonder whether this holiday would ever be signed into law by a president’s hand with congress consenting in this present decade. Would such a holiday be considered politically correct or would it be rejected as offensive to atheists and agnostics? It was so established for this nation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Dec. 26, 1941, to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
Traditionally, it has its origin as a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, even preceding the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. It has purdured throughout the course of time. Its individual celebrations are as varied as the people who celebrate together. For some it continues to maintain a religious orientation, while for others it is a time to gather with family and friends in gratitude for human relationships, and to express gratitude to and for one another.
Perhaps as in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-9, “There is a time for every purpose…” Religious gratitude transcends the times of war and peace, plenty and poverty, satiety and want. Families in Haiti, the Philippines, Iraq or other areas where natural disasters or brutal attacks have diminished humanity, can gather and begin to deal with loss and still be grateful for what survives. We can look back to the tragedy of 9/11, and yet see that houses of worship of every sort were filled with people needing to be in contact with others and their higher powers in solidarity with one another.
This Thanksgiving Day will find you in your present conditions of health, finance, career and family life. For most of us, life presently is imperfect in some area. Life for many in our world is imperfect as well. We will yet gather with friends and family to celebrate the holiday in our own way. May we express gratitude in great diversity for our bounty of food, family, friends, and in some cases faith.
Wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving.
Islamic perspective on gratefulness
By Tehseen Usman Lazzouni
Director Islamic Speakers Bureau of San Diego
Note: Imam Taha Hassane is in Mecca preparing for the Hajj (pilgrimage) with limited computer access. He asked Tehseen Usman Lazzouni to prepare a message on behalf of the Islamic Center of San Diego.
From early childhood I was taught to look on the bright side and see the proverbial cup as “half-full.” As an adult I see that being optimistic and aware of one’s blessings is intrinsic to true happiness.
On the national day of Thanksgiving, we should reflect on the marvels with which this world has been created — from galaxies in the outer reaches of our universe to atoms within our bodies, there are countless blessings for which we should be grateful.
The ability to breathe is a blessing; our seeing, hearing, and thinking are all blessings. According to Islam, one should strive to be in a constant state of gratitude, following the model of Prophet Abraham. The Qur’an, the word of God, says:
“Abraham was indeed a model, devoutly obedient to God (and) true in faith, and he did not join gods with God: He showed his gratitude for the favors of God, Who chose him and guided him to a Straight Way.” [16:120-121]
Gratitude is comprehensive and includes gratitude of the tongue, the heart, and the deeds. Muslims praise God with the words “Alhamdulillah” (All Praise is for God) and “SubhanAllah” (Glory be to God).
In one’s heart there is the constant witnessing of God’s favors upon mankind and one’s own shortcomings in expressing gratitude for them.
In one’s deeds gratitude is expressed through sharing one’s blessings. The wealthy helping the poor, the strong helping the weak, the learned helping the ignorant, and the leader upholding justice are all considered to be showing gratitude through helping others.
The counterpart to gratitude is patience; Prophet Muhammed said:
“Wondrous are the affairs of the believer. His affairs are all good … When something pleasing happens to him, he is grateful, and it is good for him. When something harmful happens to him, he is patient, and it is good for him.”
By having a grateful heart we are able to look past difficulties and approach life more positively. Difficulties provide opportunities to become stronger through patience; times of ease give opportunities to share blessings with others. Being grateful is essential to true happiness.
By Rev. Dr. Walter Dilg
La Jolla United Methodist Church
These days it may be easy to forget or overlook the many reasons we all have to be thankful. In looking at the journey that is our human lives, I offer these highlights as reminders.
I am thankful for the little babies, so soft, cuddly, and trusting, so dependent and needy, so wide-eyed and open to whatever, bearing forth the sacredness of life and the common threads of the human tapestry.
I’m thankful for skinned knees that dared to climb the tree, for blistered feet that kept on playing, for dirt under the fingernails that bore witness to the creative urge drawn forth by the earth.
I’m thankful for the healing of the broken heart, the gaining of balance and confidence when out and about, the affection offered to the painfully awkwardly advances, the gentle kiss, the firm embrace, the loving glance.
I’m thankful for parents with overflowing hearts gazing down at their little miracle, seizing the hope for a better tomorrow, the promise of the future, growing up into themselves sometimes in spite of themselves.
I’m thankful for the partnership of middle years, the stretching and striving, moments of accountability, the knowing look, the reassuring touch, help in getting ahead and in leaving behind.
I’m thankful for the companionship of gray heads with wrinkled skin, of memories and revisionist history, of dreams dancing, hurts forgotten, love abiding, and gentle leave-taking.
I’m thankful for Spirit creating, Spirit redeeming, Spirit sustaining, for tender mercies along the way, for God being present for me and for you.
When I think of it … I guess I’m thankful for life and for love, for grace upon grace.
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