Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks by Looking Around

Near the top of my gratitude list is the time I spent at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York City.  The rector, the Reverend Stephen Gerth, taught me how to cense an altar, how to say Mass, and how to look through ritual and custom to find the heart of Christ.  Stephen also taught me how to give thanks simply by looking around.     

I remember countless social occasions, parish happenings, and liturgical celebrations when the rector would, at some point, command the room and ask everyone to stop.  He would say something along the lines of, “I invite you to take a moment.  Look around the room.  Notice everyone who is here today and remember their faces.  Take in this scene, because this particular gathering, this combination of people and circumstances, will never happen again.”         

Some might find such words maudlin, but I always found them deeply meaningful.  I appreciated his interruption, almost like pressing the pause button in the middle of a great movie so that details might be noticed.  Stephen was right to point out the rare, the unique, and the once-in-a-lifetime nature of our being together, whether such a time was a high occasion or an everyday event.        

This Thanksgiving is the sixth year that Erwin and I will be at All Souls for Mass in the morning, and then in the undercroft all afternoon, continuing the feast. When I think about the last five Thanksgiving dinners, I recall how the room looked different each year.  Some of our beloved saints have died and now enjoy an even greater feast in heaven.  A few parishioners have moved away, and some of the family, friends, or neighbors who joined us in the past were simply passing through.  Each year has been different, but each year has been a gift.  And I’m grateful to have noticed.      
Wherever you may spend time over this Thanksgiving weekend and through the holidays ahead, I invite you to try that little practice Father Gerth taught me:  look around, notice what is special in that moment, and give thanks to God for the gift of life and those around us. 

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