Grateful Hearts: Four spiritual leaders share thoughts on being thankful

Rabbi Berk
Rabbi Berk

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

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