Al Gore, in his presidential election concession speech, referenced a poem by Edwin Markham that speaks of the value of experiences that “shake the soul and let the glory out.”
More recently, comedian Stephen Colbert, when speaking about how he coped with the death of his father and two brothers in a plane crash when he was a child, observed that we must view suffering as a gift.
As poet, mystic, philosopher and theologian Howard Thurman has written, “There is always a margin of freedom for the movement of the mind and the emotions away from the core of the suffering” so that we do not lose ourselves to the experience.
For that, we should always be grateful. So we must learn to cultivate gratitude, even at times when there seems little to be thankful for. Even when we are unfairly judged or face the betrayal of false friends, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, so to speak – we must learn to be thankful, even if it is just for the experience of suffering and struggle that blesses us with strength and new insights. As the song from the iconic Broadway musical ‘The Fantasticks, goes, “without a hurt, the heart is hollow.”
It is the act of giving thanks that creates the spiritual experience that provides us with the energy and adventure of ideas, enabling us to return to the world with purpose and universal praise. To celebrate and give thanks for what we have, even if it doesn’t seem like much, bestows us with grace and gives us the courage to go on. That, in turn, gives us hope. And no one can survive for long without hope.
Let me leave you with another message from Dr. Howard Thurman: “The power that enables [people] to resist the terrible necessity for scaling down their faith, hopes, dreams, commitment, to the level of the event that which is their immediate experience – this is finally the meaning of the triumph of life over death, of strength over weakness, of joy over sorrow, of love over hate. This is the power…which is rooted in the life of God, available to all men [and women] of every age, in every faith, everywhere.”
The words are beautiful. And for me, they also capture the essence of the human condition and remind us why Thanksgiving is such an important holiday.
Let us make a joyful noise unto the Lord!
Dr. Ronald L. Carter