Monday, November 23, 2015

Occupy Thanksgiving with Gratitude

In America, this is the week of Thanksgiving. Just when the world (of America and Europe) seems upended with violence, fear, hate, confusion, and conflicting views, we might be far from inclined to give thanks.
A recent message from Ananda’s worldwide spiritual directors, Jyotish and Devi Novak, contained the counsel to work consciously on responding to all challenges in life with the attitude that “Everything that happens to you is a blessing from the Divine meant for your spiritual evolution.”
This message struck a chord with members around the world and was well received. It was weeks later that the comfortable world of Paris erupted into chaos. To integrate their message into our response to these hate-filled actions is, well, not easy, to say the least. I don’t expect that most people who lost loved ones are ready to hear that particular message, but each of us would do well to practice this more in our daily lives in preparation for the larger “blessings” that surely will come into our own lives. Our challenges won’t make international news but they will be on the front page of your life, and mine, to be sure.
Let us “Occupy Thanksgiving” by coming together consciously to stand up to the divisiveness, hate, and prejudice that exists in all countries, and not just “other” countries!
Material benefits, health and security are blessings that humans celebrate and appreciate. This is natural, of course. But there is more to life than comfort, for life itself, even under difficult circumstances, is a blessing. Life has been given to us that we might have it, as Jesus put it, “more abundantly.” By this he means that we might know the joy of the universal Christ presence in ourselves, in others, and in the world around.
Padma and I watched a documentary on the lives of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand of Romania. During the Communist era behind the “Iron Curtain,” they experienced imprisonment, hard labor, torture, starvation, and isolation for many years just for being a Christian, for conducting an open (but illegal) ministry (even preaching to occupying Russian soldiers), and for speaking out against the godlessness and heartlessness of communism.
The years of torture that Richard Wurmbrand endured is beyond what most of us can even imagine. Yet, there came a point where, with his fellow prisoners tapping their chains for rhythm while singing hymns in their crowded cell, he experienced intense divine light and bliss. In later years, as he travelled around the world sharing his message, he said nowhere had he found the joy and the beauty that he experienced in that cell. (Read more in their book, “Tortured for Christ.”)
Though such experiences of grace “under pressure” are rare, they do exist. Consider how Jesus, from the cross, forgave his self-appointed enemies. Our troubles by comparison are not so great, though to us they seem at times more than we can endure.
Let us therefore celebrate life, love, and friendship as evidence of God’s presence in the world and in our lives. Let us not celebrate Thanksgiving only to enjoy a tasty banquet. To eat only for pleasure and satiety is a mockery of the spirit of Thanksgiving. (I know the turkeys of the nation thank us vegetarians; we are happy to free them from their jailor’s sentence!)
Let us this Thanksgiving affirm life over death; light over darkness; love over hate; unity over divisiveness — by coming together in gratitude and friendship. Let us give thanks to the Giver of Life; let us express friendship and love to one another; and let us express the joy of the One who is in All.
Joy to you and peace to all,
Swami Hrimananda