It is right and just to give thanks to God. Why? Because all good things come from God. Life. Love. Joy. Peace. But, what about the other things…?
In order for us to truly and fully receive these good gifts from God, we human beings are given, along with the first gift of life, the gift of freedom, or freewill. For it is only when we are free to choose that we are free to love. Yet, the shadow side of this great light is the freedom to hate, and even the freedom to be apathetic. And where there is hate or apathy, there is pain, sorrow, and struggle. When we are experiencing these hardships, sometimes we look to God and ask, Why? Why should we praise You? Why should we give You thanks when life can be so terrible?
I don’t think it’s the customary thing to look at a crucifix on Thanksgiving Day, but I believe that we should. Every day.
The crucifix reminds us that God knows. God did not need to become human like us, God did not need to experience pain, betrayal, rejection, grief, fatigue, frustration, sorrow, death. But, when the Word was made flesh, when Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Divine became incarnate. Jesus, both fully human and fully divine, experienced all that it is to be human. Willingly. Lovingly. Even though, before his crucifixion, he agonized, filled with dread, so overcome that he sweated blood, he ultimately and freely chose Divine Will. He accepted the coming torture, humiliation, and awful pain of dying on a cross. He who is without sin, he who is perfect, underwent terrible violence at the hands of those who either hated him or cared nothing for him. He was stripped and killed by them. And yet…
He forgave. Being not only fully human, but also fully divine, Jesus is also Mercy Incarnate. He shows us, in the living of a human life, the true way to the good things. Enjoyment of the good things of life doesn’t come from having a life where there is no pain or suffering. The good things of life are love and peace and joy. Love and peace and joy are truly and beautifully good because they are not dependent upon the circumstances of life. They are not dependent upon other people’s choices to be careless or to hate.
No matter what others may do to us, no matter what horrible circumstances others may create for us, like war or desperate poverty, and no matter what comes our way through the workings of nature, like disease or physical death, the good things remain solid and true. Love cannot be blocked or destroyed by suffering. Mysteriously, love can be discovered or intensified through suffering. God knows. Christ’s love for his mother and his disciples was undaunted – even his love for all humankind was not weakened by his dying on the cross. In fact, his last words were of forgiveness for those who made him suffer so terribly and of loving consideration for those who were grieving for him. And then he gave his all, in his final human words, to God. “Into Your hands…”.
We are all in God’s hands. Circumstances may try us and others may seek to harm us. But, when we live, not by the measure of temporary and physical things, but by the measure of eternal and spiritual things, the Good things of God, then we can know, even when our lives are most difficult, the ways of peace and joy and love. For “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So, looking at the crucifix can help us to be thankful.
Maya Angelou once said that, in the midst of your worst experience, when you are down, suffering, and sorrowful, if you can look up from that misery and say, “Thank you”, then you are blessed. You are experiencing grace and are, most certainly, succeeding as a human being.
I don’t know if I can do that in the future things that will befall me. I know that I have done it in the smaller things that have come before this moment. In the midst of my disability and debilitating disease, I am grateful. Of course, I have much for which to be thankful – for my friends and loving family, especially my blessed and amazing parents who give tirelessly and joyfully of themselves to me and others, and for my home where there is safety and plenty. This temporary and physical life of mine is good! And, yet, my physical body is certainly not the best. Breathing can be difficult, just getting comfortable so that I will not have pain is a trial, and, as always, I can’t even scratch my own cheek or wipe my own bottom.
But, I am grateful. I can sit here and actually think about how weak and helpless I am and still say, “Thank you.” I hope and pray that I may always be able to do that. (And I hope and pray that I will not be put to the test.)
This particular Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful that my father did not have a heart attack and that he got through septuple coronary bypass surgery successfully. I can add this to the list of many blessings. And I am mindful of those in the world whose loved ones have died this year, of my own cousin, who at 47, suffered cardiac arrest and now has severe, irreversible cognitive brain damage. My cousin’s husband and sons, with their care and devotion to Barbara, prove that love is scary strong, that love is unconquerable.
Life is hard. Life is terrible. Life is good. This is our faith as Christians, and it is a great mystery, a mystery that can only be known in love, that can only begin to be glimpsed when we gaze upon a crucifix…
© 2015 Christina Chase
 Romans 8:38-39
Photo Credit: A crucifix in the vestibule of St. Paul’s Basilica in Toronto, ON, Canada. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)