From the Bishop: Thanksgiving

an excerpt from article, How’s your fig tree?
published in the October Edition of the Rupert’s Land News
written by The Right Reverend Donald  Phillips, Bishop of Rupert’s land 

The Power of Thanksgiving

At the time we celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving in our Churches, even if we’re university students, chartered accountants, sales clerks, teachers, stay-at-home parents or politicians, we can bring a pumpkin, a jar of preserves, some corn stalks or a few pounds of potatoes to decorate our worship space, and still l  see ourselves, symbolically, thanking God for our lives and for all of the people and things in our lives for which we feel blessed.

But what do we do when we have hardship?

But what do we do when we have hardship?
What does the person who has recently lost their job do?  What about those who have just lost a parent or spouse, or even one of their children? What happens when one looks at their life and sees mostly difficulties, worries, and threatening circumstances for which they, definitely, are not thankful?

In the Old Testament there is a small piece of writing attributed to the prophet Habakkuk which addresses the dark and threatening times for the people of Israel and Judah in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. After it describes the perilous existence of the people it closes with these words, “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”  What is this speaker claiming? It seems totally absurd! They are strongly asserting that even if there is no evidence of things for which to give thanks, they will resolutely continue to offer thanksgiving to God – the source of their life.

Is this a kind of fundamental denial – a self-imposed blindness toward reality in the hopes that this kind of attitude might serve as a “painkiller” to help them cope? Or, as some people of faith actually claim, are they holding on to a faint hope that if they just thank the Supreme Being vigorously enough that One will intervene and bring some changes to the fortunes of their lives – turn their situation around for the better?

They refuse to be discouraged by what they are experiencing,
God’s providence will ultimately prevail –
regardless of their present circumstances.

I don’t believe this is what the prophet is proclaiming.  Instead, the speaker of these words is reaching into the depths of their loving knowledge, trust and faith in the God who loves and saves them.  And with that trusting faith, they are able to look under, over and beyond their present circumstances and realize that ultimately they belong to God and that this world does too. Even in their present hardship, God is present and giving them life. They refuse to be discouraged by what they are experiencing, and in their resolute insistence on the goodness of God, they are asserting that God and God’s providence will ultimately prevail – regardless of their present circumstances.

Therein lies the power of thanksgiving.  This is the spiritual life we are to be cultivating whether or not our “fig trees” have done well!