Nov 262013

spilled chaliceEach year at this time I try to give renewed contemplation to the theme of *Thanksgiving.  Because my experience in life has led me to appreciate the deep significance of gratitude and its expression, I try to dive into this theme and emerge with a perspective somewhat different from previous years.   This year there have been lots of opportunities to engage this meditation without waiting for this particular season of reflection, and it has led to a perspective expressed in the title – Thanks for Nothing.

About halfway through this year, on June 6th, my mother, Joyce Dunning, died at the age of 85.   I am grateful she died relatively peacefully, surrounded by family, Joyce Dunningaware that she was leaving us, and spiritually ready.  It was also a blessing that, as she had hoped, she died before she lost the ability to live independently in the house where she and my father raised my two sisters and me.

I can’t adequately say how grateful I am for the lives she and my father lived and gave to their family and friends, and the many ways they made the world a better place than the one they were born into.  Both of them were children of the Great Depression and abusive alcoholic fathers.  For part of my mother’s childhood, she lived in a dirt-floor shack, enduring both physical and emotional hardships.  My father, Buddy Dunning, also had a difficult childhood, one that was very unstable as the family moved from place to place, often more than once a year, due in large part to his father’s alcoholism.

Even so, my parents resolved that they would learn from their parents’ mistakes rather than emulate them.  So, while my parents were demanding, and sometimes perhaps even more harsh than they needed to be, they nonetheless provided a home for their children that was far more stable, safe, and healthy than either of them had known.  It was a home in which faith, hope, and love reigned.

Certainly, I am profoundly thankful for the home they made, and the mutual trust, understanding, kindness, and warmth they engendered among my sisters and me, and that now lives in our extended families.  In many ways, we are each very different people with our own lifestyles, attitudes, and beliefs, but we also each learned from our parents that these things, even as cherished as some of them are, are nonetheless superficial compared to that which underlies as well as transcends everything.

In addition to losing my mother this year, Susan and I also lost our two beloved cats, Lefty and Rio.  We will always be grateful for the joy, comfort, peace, and companionship they shared with us.  Now their memories and spirits are added to those of the other four-legged family members who still live in our hearts, each having helped us become better human beings than we might otherwise have been.

I am also immeasurably grateful for the loved ones who have stood with me, knelt with me, cried with me, laughed with me, and listened, counseled, or sat in silence with me, not only through this trying year but also many times past.   My amazing spouse, Susan, and her sweet family, have been through it with me every step of the way, each sharing in the grief and the joys because they all loved my mother, Lefty, and Rio as their own.   Countless friends and coworkers, many of whom have been coping with their own significant challenges, have reached out to offer sympathy, compassion, and support in their own ways.  Even the simplest gesture has touched me deeply.

So, what in the heck could I possibly mean when I say I am giving thanks for nothing?!  Simply this – the events of this year have quickened my appreciation for the fact that my deepest and most abiding gratitude is not for any thing, no object or possession, and not even for the physical presence or memory of loved ones.  That for which I am most thankful is quite literally no thing, and no mere idea or attitude.  The name I find most appealing for this no-thing is Love, although another might say Truth, Spirit, or God.

Love in this ultimate sense, this Divine sense, is that which brings all things into being, brings all things together, and gives rise to all that is new through the joining and passing away of all that was and is.  This Love has no opposite, nothing to resist it, no place where it is not.  If such words seem to make no sense, then perhaps they can serve to point beyond the limitations of our sentiments, language, and logic toward the essential Mystery with which every spirituality and science has its own love affair, its own way of embracing an ever more complete knowledge and understanding, each in its own way giving thanks for that No-Thing in which everything has its meaning.  My mother and father nurtured in me this gratitude, this love for Love itself, and I am thankful.




* Even though I view thankfulness as universal, and this holiday as an opportunity to remember and celebrate the spiritual unity of humanity, it is nonetheless true that many Native Americans consider Thanksgiving Day as a National Day of Mourning.  In my thankfulness, I also remember that much for which I am thankful has come with the cost of horrible atrocities.  I wish to honor the many contributions, both willing and unwilling, Native American people have made to the USA and the world.

  7 Responses to “This Year I’m Giving Thanks for Nothing”

  1. I am profoundly touched by your sharing, dear Chuck. I love you deeply, Brother.

  2. Thanks again, Chuck, even for “Thanks for Nothing”!

    Lovely post. I think you’re hitting on a sublime secret in life that what is truest in life, what is most meaningful, and what should draw our greatest gratitude doesn’t come in anything we can possess, nor *even* in our appropriately very cherished relationships. Our bonds with loved ones, of course, bring us the closest to anything on Earth that is truly and deeply valuable, but what is most true is IN us, AROUND us, and EVERYWHERE. “For the kingdom of God is within you (or in your midst)” (Luke 17:21). “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there” (Gospel of Thomas 77). You’ve beautifully identified this nebulous force as LOVE — something beautiful to ponder this Thanksgiving.

    I was also touched by your tribute to Native Americans. While I have remarked we need to throw out “Columbus Day” as a holiday (even if it is my daughter’s birthday!), I had not known about Thanksgiving as a Day of Mourning for Native Americans. So poignantly tragic. May we be entering a new time in our country’s history, a time when we can all celebrate together, and celebrate one another together too.

    Thank you and Thanksgiving blessings,

  3. It sounds like you’ve had a very tough year, Chuck, and my thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

    Perhaps being thankful for “nothing” is equal to being thankful for “everything”. As I grow older, I’m constantly exposed to the vicissitudes of life, so that clinging to one thing or the other is finally seen as pointless. Everything presented is desired, averted, or ignored. To understand this is freedom.


  4. Hi Chuck,

    It seems that some years have a dark cloud over them and when it rains it pours. But it truly shows the strength of your spirit, having faced such deep personal losses and to still have the faith to look only to God as the absolute source of all that is to be thankful for.

    I have often thought about how everything, no matter how much we love it, is all temporal in this world, the only real place to give our love that lasts is to the eternal One. But even then it doesn’t mean that we lose those we love or the experiences in our lives that are filled with this unconditional love.

    I like to think that as God’s word echoes into existence, each one returns to Him once it has accomplished His will, which is love, whereby He draws that experience into eternity to be remembered forever. While all that is not of love, He leaves outside in time where it has chance to grow into His will, or as Angelus Silesius put it so beautifully.

    “This rose with which my mortal eye I see, flowers in God through all eternity”

    I personally believe that every moment in our life that we have shared with those that we love and every loving memory that we have every had is there waiting for us in the eternal heart of God. So be comforted in knowing you will see those whom you love again.

  5. Steve and Dave, so warmly shared. Chuck, thank you for sharing from these past few months, losses and all, and many blessings to you in this holiday season. The childhood experiences of your parents and their determination to overcome such challenges is inspiring. Your willingness to express the sadness of your own year, coupled with your ability to remain grateful in spite of it is also inspiring. It encourages us all in whatever challenges we may face.

    Peace and comfort to you and your family,

  6. Dear Valerie, Karina, Steve, and Dave,

    My thanks to each of you for your comments. Rather than follow my usual practice of replying to each of you individually, I feel moved to make some further comments on what this year has been like for me. I’m sure you will each find some further resonance with things you’ve written above, and perhaps some things you haven’t.

    It has been an amazing year! Yes, it has been very hard in various ways, yet so many wonderful things have happened as well. I could have easily written a Thanksgiving post about a number of pleasant experiences, some of which were the achievement of long sought goals, and others were unexpected opportunities to fulfill long held hopes and dreams. Yet, the rich contrast of joy and grief over the last year has served to accentuate the impermanence of things and a deep peace that abides through it all, that is not disturbed by any extreme. In fact, I more deeply appreciate an intricate harmony in the complex interplay of pleasure and pain, happy times and sad times, and so on. I also find I have less inclination to get sucked into the countless things that society pressures us to pretend are of utmost importance. Really, is there anything to do but laugh a little, cry a little, and then sigh into silence when we step back for a moment to see how madly most of us rush around desperately conspiring with each other to not be fully present to our experiences, to not be grateful, and to not know peace? It’s a tragic comedy of our own making.

    Anyway, I want you all to know that I’m very grateful for this community, and for friends like you.


  7. Such a lovely perspective, Chuck. Isn’t it a remarkable paradox in life that, sometimes, the most meaningful moments in life come in those moments of suffering and loss? The Lord is gracious to fill us in surprising ways when we may least expect it. I’m touched by this: “I more deeply appreciate an intricate harmony in the complex interplay of pleasure and pain, happy times and sad times, and so on.” And then I smile with the very next line, posted on the day some people call “Black Friday”: “I also find I have less inclination to get sucked into the countless things that society pressures us to pretend are of utmost importance.” Ah! May our world learn this.


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