November: Saints, Turkeys, and Opportunities for Grateful Reflection

November 13, 2017
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

flowersIt’s November, which means that we’ve all survived the sugar rush of Halloween. The scarecrow I built with my kids, which made me think someone was looking inside my window every single time I went into the kitchen, is now, thankfully, a thing of the past. As I was pulling fake cobwebs from my bushes, I began to think about how in November we are truly set up to think about and deepen our commitment to gratitude. We begin with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, when we remember the saints of the church and of our lives, and then we end with Thanksgiving and Christ the King Sunday. November, from beginning to end, is an opportunity to think differently about the world – to reset, refocus, and remember those things that are important.

This morning I was thinking about my two favorite All Saints’ Day hymns: “For All the Saints” and “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”

Particularly this: O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!

And this: They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still, the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.

What I like about these two verses from the two hymns is that they are a reminder of how we are all connected. We live in a time when our sense of connection can be easily skewed. Though I am grateful for social media for reconnecting me to friends I lost touch with when I graduated from college, I also realize that at times being connected via my phone keeps me from having to connect with the people right in front of me. When I miss the opportunity to connect with those I am interacting with, then I miss the chance to meet a saint of God. I miss the chance to have my life transformed by someone else. This all came into focus for me as I took my children trick or treating for the first time. We went to about 15 houses right around the block where we live. We knew three of the people who gave my kids candy. I remember when I was growing up, I knew almost everyone who gave me candy. This year, I only knew one child that I gave candy to. Halloween helped me realize that the world has changed, but our need for community has not. And so this morning, as I pulled fake cobwebs off of the bushes while drinking my coffee and listening to All Saints’ Day hymns as a part of my morning devotion, I realized that the hymn is right (for me at least): I feebly struggle and the saints in glory shine, but thankfully, we are all one in Christ, strengthened by the communion of faith, built on a foundation of gratitude, and given a new day to try again.

And so, November unfolds before us, a new chance to give thanks for those whose lives give us hope, encouragement, and strength and then concludes in an opportunity to give thanks for all the blessings of this life at Thanksgiving. If you’re able to hold Christmas at bay, November is a lovely moment in time to appreciate autumn and the changing of the seasons and to celebrate all of those things that gave your life meaning, support, and joy in the year that is coming to an end. For many people, Thanksgiving is a time to honor family traditions, and those saints you remembered at the beginning of the month come alive in the food or activities they handed down to you. (In our house, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without my husband making his grandmother’s mashed potatoes, which are delicious but could cause cardiac arrest.) I wonder what would happen if we told the stories of the traditions that are important to us, or spent November reflecting on why we are grateful for the people we will share the holiday with. What if you wrote a thank-you card to everyone you’re sharing the holiday with? How would that change you, or them, or your holiday? What if you put together a booklet with all of the holiday’s recipes and the stories behind them for your guests and included photos of the saints who handed down those traditions? What if you kept a gratitude journal this month or simply committed to thanking a stranger every day for something he or she is doing that you benefit from or interact with? This year, I hope you’ll consider new ways to infuse gratitude into your holiday celebration. (Later on in this edition, you’ll find a couple of gratitude scavenger hunt ideas. We’ll be trying one out at our house.) Perhaps it is as simple as pressing pause and thanking each person at your celebration for something he or she has done that day or in the last year that you’re grateful for, or just deeply taking in those moments when your heart is as full as your tummy.