Oct. 30, 2009: Thanksgiving: A heart full of gratitude knows peace, by Sister Mary Jo Thummel

October 30, 2009 by

This month we celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving. The story of the origin of Thanksgiving varies according to source, but one thing that all sources agree on is that the feast is based on festivals celebrating thanks for an abundant harvest. One of the first celebrations in the United States was said to have taken place in Massachusetts in 1621.

The Pilgrims had landed near what is today Plymouth, Mass., in 1620 and their first winter in the New World was very difficult. Half of the colony died from disease. The following spring, the Iroquois Indians taught them to grow corn and other crops and how to hunt and fish.

In the autumn of 1621, the harvest was bountiful and the Pilgrims and local Indians celebrated together for three days. Feasting and games abounded as the two groups enjoyed each other’s company. There was no concern about race, culture or creed. All were thankful to be blessed with one another’s gifts and companionship.

Being thankful always reminds me of a man I got to know when I was in St. Louis, working to earn two units of Clinical Pastoral Education credit. He was a Vietnam veteran who had lost both legs.

I visited him weekly and when I came into his room he would always smile at me and say, “Wait a minute, Sister, I have to put on my legs.” He would then proceed to attach his legs and we would journey off to the dayroom to visit. I never heard him complain or utter a word of anger or discouragement. He always had a smile and word of cheer for those we encountered.

I always felt at peace when I was with him because he was at peace with himself, just as he was. He taught me volumes about what it meant to be grateful.

To this day, when I want to grumble about my own misery or downfalls, I think of him. One of my greatest treasures is a picture of the two of us together visiting and working a jigsaw puzzle.

There were other such encounters during my year of CPE training and I became aware that when my heart was full of gratitude, it was also full of peace. There simply wasn’t room for anger, resentment, or violence in my heart when I could find a reason for thankfulness.

Out of that experience, I try to find some reason for gratitude each day regardless of how meager — or abundant! — the harvest of the day has been. I have come to know that when I look through the lens of gratitude I see each of my brothers and sisters in a more kindly light.

As we move toward the feast of Thanksgiving, maybe we could all challenge ourselves to keep a gratitude journal during this Concordia Year of Peace.

— Sister Mary Jo Thummel is on the Leadership Council of the Sisters of St. Joseph and a member of the Concordia Year of Peace Committee.

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