Last Sunday I was invited to preach at one of the senior homes in town. “Expect 8-10 people,” I was told, “Most of them won’t really follow what you are saying.” I accepted the invitation, and sat down to write my sermon. Thanksgiving was the theme, based on the story of the ten lepers healed, with only one returning to say thank you. My main question posed was, “How often do we forget to give thanks for the good things in our lives amidst isolation, pain, and grief, and how much grace and how many glimmers of God do we let pass us by unnoticed?”
I arrived at the home, and checked in at the reception desk. Chaos ensued for the next few minutes, as no one knew where the person who was supposed to greet me was, or the musician, and they wandered around looking for her. Then she appeared around the corner, pushing a wheelchair of someone who had wanted to join the service. Others were brought in, or walked in themselves, and soon a dozen or so of us were gathered and the musician came and sat at the piano. I figured I was just supposed to start, so stood up and we began the service.
We sang, prayed, heard scripture, and then I stood to preach. Most people were following what I said, a few others used the time for a quick nap. And when the service was finished, some people were wheeled out and others left. Most spoke briefly to me, thanking me for the service, and some asked where my accent was from. A couple of people thanked me for a new view on a Thanksgiving theme, and one just said, “I’m lost too, like you.”
As I reflected on our time together I was most touched by the singing. People were struggling to sing the familiar hymns, and some would just hum the tune, or stumble over the words. But when we sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness, people picked up on the chorus. Each time the refrain came, loud, sure, strong voices sang out,
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided--
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
These women and men knew the words at such a deep level that they could sing with conviction and certainty. Morning by morning new mercies I see! And that was what I had been asking them to pay attention to in my sermon. New mercies in the form of a smile, a hand reaching out to help, a meal placed in front of us, a glimmer of sunshine on the white bark of a birch tree, the sun trying to break through a wintery sky. Morning by morning, day by day, evening by evening God’s faithfulness abounds!
As many of us gather around tables tomorrow to celebrate Thanksgiving, will you look for new (and old) mercies? Will you seek to have a heart of thanksgiving? Will you remember the ways God has been faithful to you?
I will be one of the ones working tomorrow, and for that I will be thankful! And I will hope to offer a smile, a friendly gesture, an extra helping hand, a heart of gratitude to all I meet. May others remember God’s faithfulness in this.
Moving to Minnesota has been eye opening for me in many ways! I’ve had to learn new things (how to walk in the snow without falling on my butt…. Snow chains for my boots!; how to rake leaves and shovel snow; what a hot dish is; to expect people to say, “You betcha,” when you thank them; and dealing with suspicion about my choice to be vegetarian to name just a few). But I think the most eye-opening thing has been watching people’s expressions when I tell them what I am doing for work. As someone trained as a teacher, spiritual director and pastor, when I say I’m working in the dining room at the monastery, a puzzled, judgmental look passes over them. “You are doing what?” they might ask, if they are not good at filtering themselves. And I imagine an internal conversation happening as they try to figure out why someone with a master’s degree is working a minimum wage job.
Without explaining the many reasons why, I know this is the right place for me to be right now. Being part time, it gives me time to build my spiritual direction practice, and I work with good, spiritual people. So, for now, it’s where I need to be.
But the reaction makes me wonder: why do we so quickly judge and categorize people according to their job? why do we think some jobs are less than? why do we look down on people who work service jobs?
I know I can be guilty of some of this, especially if I am speaking to a customer service person on the phone (way less so if I can see the person in front of me)…. I can get impatient, speak more harshly, forget I’m speaking to an actual human being (supposing I am!!). And seeing reaction directed toward me has made me realize my part in this, and the desire to do better.
No matter who I interact with, I promise to recognize their humanity, their spiritual nature, the essence of their being. And I believe this will help bring more peace and love and joy to this world.
Will you join me?
Before the snow here started falling, the trees in their fall colors, and the orders in which they let go of their leaves fascinated me. The three main trees here are maple, birch and oak. First, the birch leaves turned yellow and began to fall, then the maples with their yellow, red, dusty pink-ness, and finally the oaks, their leaves turn a dead looking brown and they hang on the longest, many oaks still fully dressed, even in the snow.
It made me wonder what happens to the leaves, why they turn different colors…. or just look dead hanging there, and why some trees loose all their leaves so quickly while others are reluctant to. And I wonder, come spring, which will show signs of new life first!
I also wonder how this reflects in my life. What am I ready to let go of quickly, without any compunction, what do I make sure shines in it’s full glory before I drop it, and what do I hold on to even when it is dead and ugly, serving no use any more.
And I wonder how this reflects for you?