And now, bless the God of all, who has done wondrous things on earth.  Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb, and fashions them according to his will!  May he grant you joy of heart and may peace abide among you; may his goodness toward us endure in Israel to deliver us in our days.
Sirach 50: 22-24

As this Thanksgiving Day begins, one that is highly informed for me from the attempt at conversion and transformation that we as a community have undertaken, I reflect on these words of Soren Kierkegaard: “Christ has desired only one kind of gratitude: the praise that comes from the transformed individual.”  (Journals and Papers II, 190-191)  What is uniquely true about the gratitude of the transformed individual?  How does it differ from other forms of gratitude?
In the familiar story that constitutes today’s gospel reading, we hear of the cleansing of the ten lepers and of how only one returns to thank Jesus.  Luke starkly tells us: “He was a Samaritan.”  It is only the despised foreigner whose heart is touched by this extraordinary gift that he has been given.  All ten were healed of their leprosy, but only this Samaritan was transformed.  
The truth of the matter is that real gratitude does not come easily to us human beings.  This is true because we want to be self-reliant and independent.  The truth of which Sirach speaks, that God fosters our growth from our mother’s womb and fashions us according to God’s will, is a reality we spend much of our life denying.  it is our insistence that we are “self-made” that is the cause of much of our lack of empathy toward others.  Perhaps it is precisely because of his marginalization that the Samaritan recognizes how much what Jesus has done for him is free gift and not something he is due, or to which he has a right. 
In this sense, “the transformed individual” is one who has come to truly experience and live out of his or her true place in the world.  It is one whom life has taught his or her true place, having been brought low from any form of self-exaltation and self-promotion.  If I reflect honestly on my own life, my experience of gratitude, in large part, has been an experience of “feeling grateful” for getting what I want: for beauty, as I recognize beauty; for love and friendship, as it gratifies and confirms me; for strength and good health; for bounty and comfort.  But this is gratitude not so much to God as God but to the god of my own will.  When I am drawn into moments of suffering and pain, or of loneliness and fear, or darkness and dread, words of gratitude do not so immediately spring to my lips.  
it is only as transformed that we are able to bless and thank God and the works of god that fashion us according to God’s will.  As we look about our world today, it can seem as if the spirit of gratitude is largely absent.  We cannot bless the work of God in the world because we are so busy interfering with it rather than recognizing and serving it.  Adrian van Kaam points out that to be human is to be, above all, “formable.”  We are able both to give and to receive form.  It is our capacity to receive form that is primary in us.  The form we are to give our life and world is to be the outgrowth and fruit of the form we and our world are being given by God.  So the form we give to life is our response to God’s work in us and the world.  
In this sense, any true work must spring from gratitude.  We inflict harm on the planet, on others, and on ourselves because we are not able to recognize and be grateful for God’s fashioning of all life, including our own.  In this sense, gratitude or thanksgiving, in its deepest meaning, is that which counters the arrogance of our own ego, our presumption that “we know.”  Kiekegaard’s assertion that Christ desires only the praise and gratitude of the transformed individual is accurate because until that arrogance of our own ego is darkened we are not truly praising God but ourselves.  To be grateful when things go our way is merely a form of self aggrandizement.
An example of the transformed vision is expressed in the poem The Dark Night of St. John of the Cross, stanza 5:

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

It is not “the light” of our own way and comprehension that unites us with God, but rather the night that is “more lovely than the dawn!”  So, strangely enough, we are formed in gratitude to the degree we cease to be certain about our own feelings of gratitude.  Strangely enough on this Thanksgiving I experience the tension of feeling grateful for much in my life, but also of seeming intensely aware of the losses.  I do not readily say “Thanks” to God for those losses.  I do not spontaneously praise God for the sense of confusion and disorientation I can feel in terms of my place in the world and with some of those who have been important to me.  Yet, it is this night of confusion and disorientation that I must trust as being “more lovely than the dawn!”  
As Sirach reminds us, God is fashioning all as God wills.  The gratitude and thanksgiving that is the source of my and our cooperation with that will must come from a “dark recognition” of God’s work as it both integrates and differentiates, as it both unites and divides, as it gives both death and life.  As Dag Hammarskjold lived out the light and dark dimensions of his own life, as he exalted in the work he had been given and suffered the loneliness, rejection, and pain that work caused him, he was able to express from the depth of his heart: “For all that has been, thanks; to all that will be, yes!”  There is nothing in his life that is excluded from the thanks and from the yes.  This is the praise of the transformed person, the one who sees with the eye with which God sees.

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise
For the wonder of each hour
Of the day and of the night
Hill and vale and tree and flower
Sun and moon and stars of light
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise
For the joy of human love
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth and friends above
For all gentle thoughts and mild
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise
                  Folliott S. Pierpoint

 

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