Anne Howard: Word in Time: Saying Thanks


My grandma loved to cook. And more than that, she loved to feed us. Suppers at her kitchen table were a favorite for my brothers and me, especially when she made our favorite rye bread slathered in butter, or the Christmastime kringra, flavored with cardamom.

I remember the food, but even more than that, I remember the ritual we had at the end of the meal. My Dad taught my brothers and me to get up from our places, push in our chairs, walk over to Grandma seated in her chair and say, "mange tusen takk," Norwegian for "many thousand thanks." On Christmas Eve, when we had lutefisk, we didn't feel like saying mange tusen takk, but we did so anyway. We were always to say takk, thanks, whether we got our favorite Swedish meatballs or the dreaded lutefisk. Grandma had fed us, and saying takk mattered.

I think of that ritual of thanks when I hear this week's story from Luke, about the ten lepers healed by Jesus. 

In Luke's story (Luke 17), ten lepers are healed, but only one comes back to say thanks to Jesus for the healing. The other nine are off down the road to find the priests, who would, as was the custom, inspect the lepers and verify their cleanliness. (Only then could the lepers be re-admitted to the temple and so be freed from their status as the outcast unclean.)

The one who turns back is different. He is different in his very identity: he is doubly outcast as a leper and a foreigner, a Samaritan.  And he stops to say thanks.

Luke uses the outsider to make a point, as he did in his familiar parable about that "Good Samaritan," where the outcast foreigner acts as a neighbor to the one in need, crossing the lines of taboo to tend to the wounded man in the ditch. Luke's point was to show that God is more interested in acts of compassion than in the rules of religion.

Luke chooses a Samaritan again in this story to make a point. We can pretty much assume that Luke's point is not about manners. Nor does he mean to instruct his first-century listeners in the proper etiquette for receiving a healing.

Again and again Luke gives us Jesus as a wisdom teacher, subverting the teaching of the ancient law and showing that God is not reached only through strict adherence to the temple codes. Jesus teaches in parables that disorient his listeners with the shock of the new; he shows them that God is close at hand, in your neighbor, in an act of compassion, a touch of healing. The kingdom is in the midst of you, take notice.

In the Samaritan and his act of thanksgiving, we see Jesus teaching in this alternative way. So, what is it about saying thanks that shows us the new way of God?

Saying thanks demands attention to the moment. Thanks demands our recognition that the present moment is all we have. We appreciate what is, right here and now, not what could be. We give thanks for what we have--meatballs or lutefisk--never mind. Jesus said it with those words about the kingdom: right here, right now, at hand.

I figure that this recognition of the present moment is the beginning of abundance. Abundance means not counting how much is enough, whether enough food or time or money, but just beginning to see what is, and being able to say thank you. It means not rushing off to the next thing, as the nine did, but stopping to take note of the reality of this moment.

So the saying of thanks-the practice of abundance-grounds us in the present moment, not determined by the past or straining toward the future. Abundance asks us to loosen our grasp, to let go of our stored up regrets about yesterday and our amped up fears about tomorrow. It invites us to cease from reaching, straining always forward to the next time, the better way, the improved, bigger, faster, upgraded, whatever. The practice of abundance is an alternative way to live in our world, as alternative as that one leper's way was different. As alternative as Jesus.


Echoes from the Edge

What Democracy Looks Like: A Reflection on the Shutdown

By Nicholas Hayes, Harvard Divinity School student - October 7th, 2013

I was enraged yesterday morning, but this morning, I am grateful. I'm grateful because I went to a Greater Boston Interfaith Organization assembly last night. There, in a Roxbury church basement, I was reminded of what democracy actually looks like when its process is vital and its spirit is true. As members of GBIO prepared for our 15th Anniversary re-founding campaign, we retold our stories. We heard where we started, what we've accomplished, what we've meant in the lives of some of our members. We even reflected on how eight years ago, against the odds, a coalition of us in Massachusetts--of which GBIO was a cornerstone--pushed through a universal health care law that became the law of the land. The very law our unrepentantly unrepresentative congress in Washington refuses to accept.

 It was a fitting reminder of what good work can be done when people trust in democracy and each other, recognizing and honoring our differences but acknowledging there are common goods that can only be found and won *together.* It was an inspiring reminder of what happens when we all-too-disconnected individuals resolve to move beyond our isolation and our habitual enclaves to build collective power, with intention, accountability, discipline--and faith (in the divine, or ourselves, or both). Finally, it was a reminder that we have much, much more work to do. Our local, state, and national governments must be held accountable for their countless failures to serve those who have given them their authority. And they won't come willingly. They won't come unless we build that power.

 Power needn't be a bad word. It needn't be a word we whisper in hushed tones: too often, that's the problem. Collective power, democratic power--the power we have *with,* not over--is a marvelous thing. As I heard several voices testify last night, finding out you, an ordinary person, can have power, is actually a step into your full humanity. It's a step beyond the lies you've absorbed from "the powerful" all your life without knowing you've been lied to. It's a further step into fullness when you find you can have power with people our segregated society tries to keep apart from you, and make you, consciously and unconsciously, afraid of. The redemption of anger may just be its forging into power, and its cooling into strategy. And, of course, the realization that its other face is love.

Finally, the Poet


By W. S. Merwin - October 7th, 2013


with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky

and say thank you

we are standing by the water thanking it

smiling by the windows looking out

in our directions


back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you


over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the door

and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks we are saying thank you

in the faces of the officials and the rich

and of all who will never change

we go on saying thank you thank you


with the animals dying around us

our lost feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is


Taken with permission from the blog of The Beatitudes Society.