Something to Think About:
The Discipline of Giving Thanks Mark Sibley Jones
Each day in Plimoth Plantation, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts,
is a re-enactment of each corresponding day of the year of the 1627
original settlement. Actors faithfully and deliberately stay in character
as they go about their tasks, even interacting with visitors--but from
their own perspective as colonists. My conversation with a gentleman
who was tending a garden was revealing. How do I explain to this 17th
century man that I am a pastoral psychotherapist from Texas? He had
no concept of psychotherapy, nor of the wilds of what was then an obscure
portion of Mexico. I eventually abandoned my impromptu attempt to explain
who I am--it was not possible to bridge the time span. He did seem
to capture the notion that I "advise people."
My most profound encounter was with a young woman, busy with her chores
at a table in her small quaint home. I sat with her for awhile to attempt
another interpersonal connection. Although these "characters" could
not comprehend my modern day vocation, our chat soon shifted toward
a pastoral and therapeutic quality. As she dutifully explained her
cooking chores, I asked about her relationships. She began to tear
up as she commented on how difficult it was to be the only surviving
member of her family. This was early June, and all her loved ones had
succumbed to illness during the recent harsh winter. Her face flushed
with the physiology of grief; her desperate loneliness was apparent
in her regret for having left her English home. Actor and character
were one. Were she my patient, I'd be treating her for depression and
an acute grief reaction. I felt shaken to the core as I emerged back
into the sunlight of the village's small thoroughfare. I had been suddenly
transformed from a vacationing tourist to a participant in the drama.
Today, as I reflect on the original Thanksgiving event, I am reminded
that our gratitude does not always enjoy the context of pleasant occurrences.
While we may be thankful for our blessings, we may not actually feel
blessed in the moment. I'm impressed by the sheer faith of these pilgrims
to offer Thanksgiving during such a difficult time.
The four centuries that separate me from these pilgrims does not remove
us from the common thread of human experience--nor of our desperate
need for gratitude. If gratitude is elicited only in response to an
observable and positive event, then it has little value to the soul.
If giving thanks, however, is an act of faith--a spiritual discipline--then
its transforming power can buttress our hearts from the dark nights
Yes, the aroma of baking pies that I smell just now prompts me to
feel thankful! And yes, I will offer words and prayers of thanksgiving
today as I sit at the table with my loved ones. But, I do so with an
awareness that my words of thanks contain an tacit promise to foster
gratitude in my daily life. It is a discipline that helps me to survive
the "harsh winters" of life.