It was a poignant image, a photo by Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal, highlighting the megastorm Sandy coverage of Oct. 30. A large stone statue of the Virgin Mary sat seemingly untouched midst the rubble and burned out devastation of the Breezy Point neighborhood in . On top of massive flood and wind damage, fire destroyed over one hundred homes.
Natural disasters—floods, storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, lightening strikes— force reflection. Perhaps the image of Mary surrounded by the scattered wreckage of the material strivings of human beings suggests a meeting of Heaven and earth. Despite our advanced technology and marvelous discoveries, we are reminded that we are subject to a higher power, forces bigger than all of us. Doubters despair; believers turn to God. When we see so much swept away, we ask, “What endures?”
Following a disaster, Thanksgiving Day takes on new meanings. The afflicted take time to give thanks for their very survival, and the help rendered by their fellow man. Those who were not directly impacted give thanks for the fact of being spared discomfort and dislocation. In sermons and homilies we are reminded to “love our neighbors” and render aid and comfort to those suffering from personal disasters and challenges that rarely make news—illness, accidents, serious injury, loss of a loved one, a house fire, a financial or career reverse.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is a phrase from the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1549. The insight that our possessions and the material aspect of our human makeup are ephemeral puts the concept of “net worth” into perspective.
In his book “A Call to Joy: Living In the Presence of God,” author Matthew Kelly notes that if we focus too much on our “smaller passions,” the earthly pursuits that get so much attention, “we deny ourselves the experience of much greater realities.”
For example, he says, “Though we pay a good deal of attention to maintaining our physical health by eating and exercising, we human beings are actually a delicate composition of both matter and spirit, body and soul. In fact, what sets human beings above other animals is the soul, which is carefully linked with the will and the intellect.”
That, too, the realization that we are a unique union of both material and spiritual, with a soul that is not mortal but eternal, is an intersection joining Heaven and earth.
As was the English tradition, in the autumn of 1621, 53 surviving Pilgrims and some Wampanoag Indians celebrated their first successful harvest. They did not call the harvest festival a “thanksgiving,” though they did thank God. To the Pilgrims a Day of Thanksgiving was purely religious, dedicated to prayer, not feasting.
On Nov. 22, as we celebrate family, food, football, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we may include a religious observance, giving thanks to Our Creator for the wisdom and insight that allows us to recognize what truly is important. Understanding that our soul and our legacy will not pass away, changes our focus in life. Perhaps midst sadness, tragedy, loss, and challenge, that is the point.
Matthew Kelly observes, “When we look forward in our lives we see uncertainty. When we look back, the events of our lives fall together like the colored pieces in a kaleidoscope, forming a pattern with meaning, we are then able to see how certain circumstances and events of the past have been part of an unfolding plan. By recognizing that a plan or pattern of providence has been at work in our past, we are able to move forward with trust despite the uncertainty that lies ahead.”
We wish you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving.
Lewis Walker is President of Walker Capital Management LLC and Walker Capital Advisory Services, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor (R.I.A.)