If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is Thank You, it will be enough.–Meister Eckhart
When we celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving this upcoming Sunday, we will read from Luke 17:11-19, where Jesus heals the ten lepers.
What catches my attention are not the nine lepers who go merrily on their way, with no mention of giving thanks for having been freed from the shackles of this horrible disease. Rather, I’m struck by the one leper, who turns in gratitude, giving thanks to Jesus. This leper’s awareness of his miraculous physical healing given to him by Jesus causes him to turn back and give thanks and praise for the healing power of God’s love. He demonstrates a humble spirit filled with gratitude.
I believe there is a mystery hidden within this gospel story that reminds us of the quiet power residing in a simple “thank you.” Have you ever noticed how an honest, sincere “thank you” can cause another’s face to light up in joy?
Think about it. It indicates gratitude for, and an awareness of, another…be it something they did, or just simply for the person they are. A sincere “thank you” can also indicate an acknowledgement of a certain kinship with another, often without even knowing that person.
I was told a story once, by someone I knew little about. All I knew was their appearance spoke of a life lived with much rejection, hurt and loss. By telling me their story, they were sharing a piece of themselves, and when I said a quiet “thank you” for telling me this, I saw genuine surprise in their eyes, and then a broken grin that spoke of nothing other than pure joy!
I was reminded that there are many people, who due to lack of ability, resources, education or housing, experience themselves as people with nothing to offer. All too often, they find themselves on the receiving end. But a simple “thank you” can give someone that awareness that they touched another’s heart, that they were heard, and most important, that they matter.
In the words of Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has dedicated his life to understanding what it means to be in kinship with another – through his work with gang members in L.A., “how else, except through relationship, can people be reminded of their goodness?”
That one leper was “reminded of his goodness” when, in a spirit of gratitude, he offered his thanks, and in turn, was touched by the realization of God’s complete and unconditional love. His healing was complete. He was made whole.
The challenge for so many of us comes when we lose our sense of gratitude. When our lives become so overwhelmed with the cares and concerns of the day, when we’re too busy to count the blessings in our lives, we fail to recognize God’s message reminding us of our goodness.
Or perhaps we find ourselves in a very dark place, barely making it through to the next day, with “thank you” not even on the horizon.
Well, one of the most amazing things about our God, comes in the knowing that we are loved, no matter what. When we learn that our creator doesn’t scare easily, and remains with us in those busy places, those very dark places; when we learn that our God is not one who requires that we “measure up” before we can be loved; when we learn that that we can place our trust in a God who loves us “right here, right now, no matter what,” then perhaps we can learn to become people of gratitude.
When we learn these things about God, then maybe we can place our trust in a God who knows us better than we know ourselves, who abides in us, offering healing and comfort. Just as Jesus said to that one leper “your faith has made you well,” our faith will make us well, and we can open our eyes to the goodness around us.
In the spirit of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who encouraged many to “find God in all things,” I encourage each of us to remember that nothing is outside the realm of sanctity; the world is infused with God’s presence.
And for this, we can be filled with gratitude, and give thanks.