Giving Thanks

 By Rev. Canon Stewart Murray, Incumbent at St. Barnabas, Ottawa

(This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Diocese of Ottawa.)

For many people, October is the one of the most beautiful months in Canada. The leaves on the trees have begun to change into a riot of colours, the air has a refreshing chill, and the local farmers’ markets are full of the bounty of the fall harvest. Our schedules have returned to a new rhythm of work, school, and activities after the more relaxed days of summer.

One of the highlights for me is the celebration of Harvest Thanksgiving. Other than Christmas, Thanksgiving is the only time in our modern society when we are encouraged to stop and reflect on our lives, and to acknowledge the abundance that we have: abundance not only in terms of material goods, but in terms of all that makes our lives meaningful and possible; for peace and security, for love and community, and for opportunities and freedom.

Thanksgiving this year will be celebrated in the shadows of the terrible events of the past few months: the terrorist attacks in Spain, the resurgence of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in different parts of the world, the ongoing suffering of the people of Iraq and Syria, the spectre of nuclear war hanging in the air, the plight of refugees and migrants risking and often losing their lives on rafts and rickety boats as they seek a better life, and all those impacted by the recent bout of natural disasters.

How can we celebrate when so many of our neighbours at home and around the world are facing such suffering and fear? On reflection, I can only say how can we not celebrate? The greatest antidote to fear, hatred, and despair is to remember the power of love, beauty, and goodness.

As followers of Jesus, we are thankful for the faith and hope we have in Him. As the words of the General Thanksgiving so powerfully reminds us, “…but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 14). 

In the face of the ugliness of recent events, we must affirm that we are not captives of these events, nor are we defined by them. Our understanding of the world, and of ourselves, is in the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

So much of the fear and hatred we see, and at times experience, in our world has at its root the dislocation and isolation of the individual from the wider community and especially from any understanding of the need for the human heart to be in relationship with the living God.

We all seek and need a deep sense of meaning and purpose for our lives, and often we seek this in ways that can lead to division and loneliness. St. Augustine summarized this dilemma when he wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” The joy of the Gospel that we live in and are called to share is that in Christ, we find the ultimate source of purpose and meaning. Our parish communities are places where we all are valued and accepted, places where together we seek to strengthen people, by God’s grace, in the face of loneliness and ugliness in the world, places where we continually give thanks to God for all that is good and beautiful in the world, and where we work together to build a better society for all.