Thanksgiving Oct 11, 2020
II Corinthians 9:6-15
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.
The very word Thanksgiving connects gratitude with generosity. Out of sincere gratitude for what we have, our generosity wells up to overflowing. II Corinthians suggests that by having enough, we will share abundantly. Enough, of course, is relative. Most of us in this congregation have enough—enough food, enough shelter, enough basic income. Even more, all of us are enough. It is out of this deep contentment with who we are, just as we are, that we can ease that craving for more and relax into simply being the beautiful person God has already created us to be. This doesn’t mean that we stop growing and learning. There is always room for improvement in our knowledge and actions. What it does mean is that, deep in the core of our being, we are enough. Smart enough, good looking enough—we have what it takes to live into being a kind and generous soul.
A few weeks ago, I was worrying about something in the middle of the night. I tried repeating the mantra, “I have enough. I am enough.” After only a minute or so, I was surprised to find myself relaxing and soon eased into sleep. II Corinthians suggests that once we’re convinced that we have enough and are enough, we will have more to give away. Even more, we will be glad to give not only our money and our things but also our time and our love.
That’s what giving thanks means in Ojibwe. Some time ago, Niigaan Sinclair wrote an article in the Free Press about the meaning of miigwech. We hear that word often and understand it to mean, “thank you.” But the literal translation of it means something else. The English words “thank you” infer that the gift-giving is complete. You have received something and you say, “thank you” to respectfully, gratefully finish that transaction. But in Ojibwe, miigwech comes from the verb “miigiwe” which means “to give away”. Miigwech means that the gift-giving is just beginning. Niigaan explains that saying miigwech makes a commitment to give back either to the giver or someone else. It is a gift that keeps on giving.
I would like to propose a little experiment. The next time someone does something for you or gives you something and you say thank you, think about the Ojibwe understanding of thank you. It will mean that you are committing yourself to pass on the gift. It means that you are already thinking about how to give to give back. If a stranger holds open a door for me and I say thank you, it means that I’m already thinking about how I can be kind to the next stranger. If a friend brings over some baking, and I say thank you, it means that I’m already thinking about someone else to whom I can give some food or assistance. When seniors received unexpected cheques in the mail, some decided to pass this money on to the church or to other charities. It was an Ojibwe style of giving thanks.
Here’s the premise behind my experiment. If we can be mindful of the Ojibwe understanding of thank you every time we say those words, we may be able to change our mindset and even the pathways in the brain. We will become a gift-based community that actively looks for ways to give. It might even change our lives.
The Cree understand thanksgiving as a lifestyle. Elder Stan McKay explained to me that the Muskego Cree word for thanksgiving is “Nanaskomowwin”. It means a philosophy of life, a life-long attitude of gratitude. It’s not something that is ever completed—rather, it’s a way of being. To say “nanaskomowwin” is to remind yourself to live in gratitude.
Even the Japanese word for thanks expands our English understanding. Before a meal, the word “itadakismasu” is spoken. It is a way of saying thank you not only for the food, but also for the hands that made it, the hands that harvested the ingredients, and even the land and sea that produced them. Nancy & I often use this Japanese word as a quick way to express the big picture of gratitude.
If we put together these three different teachings, we will better understand the depth of gratitude described in II Corinthians. We give as we receive. We live gratitude. We are grateful for nature’s provisions and for everyone who works together for our needs: farmers and fishers, factory workers and store clerks, health care providers and educators. We are grateful for our beloved country of Canada and for those in other countries who also provide for our needs.
As we give thanks for God’s creation and the intricate connection of workers across the globe, we will realize our interdependence upon each other. So many people in so many places work so hard for our benefit. How can we not respond with generous hearts? Our Christian tradition tells us to donate 10% of our income. That’s a lot—but II Corinthians reminds us that the extent to which we give equals the degree to which we receive. As we receive, so we give. And as we give, so we receive. It’s a sign of health and faithfulness in a gift-giving community.
Such extravagance of generosity reminds me of a conversation I had with Doreen Stephenson some years ago, when she told me that had a daily practice of gratitude. Every day, she would give thanks for at least one thing. This practice helped her live in gratitude. It reflected her life-long practice of generosity, as she and Fred shared even their house with those in need.
This year, COVID has shaken us all up and our understanding of enough and of need has shifted. Our priorities have been challenged. We crave socializing with friends and family, going to the theatre, watching the CFL. Accumulation of things doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore. In this time of social isolation, we know more acutely that our social connections matter deeply.
In closing, I want to tell you what our Sunday School is doing to try to keep our young families connected. Maggie, Danielle, Julia and Cheryl are offering Sunday School online through Zoom. Maggie is putting together craft kits for 42 families in our church every week and Dianne Sjoberg is dropping them off at each home. This is an incredibly generous offer of time and materials that goes way beyond what is expected. But they are doing this because they want our families to know that they are not forgotten. And I am so grateful.
So let’s give generously to one another and to this church so that ministries such as the Sunday School’s creative drop-offs can continue. Now, more than ever, we need to know that we are not alone.
This Thanksgiving may be a quieter time without large family gatherings. It may be sad, but it might also offer space and time for us to reflect on all that we have and how so many people around the world have made this possible. Out of deep gratitude, I invite you to say thank you in an Indigenous way that considers how you can keep that giving going as generously as you have received.