In church a few Sundays ago, my pastor, Amos Disasa, called on an unlikely source for his sermon. Being probably the most culturally deprived person on the planet, I had never heard of Antwan André Patton (aka Big Boi and Sir Lucious Left Foot). I also hadn’t heard of Outkast, the name of his (now defunct) hip-hop duo.
But it doesn’t really matter, because now I have it. And this four-word phrase from his first solo album, which Disasa quoted throughout the Sunday sermon, has echoed in my heart in the moments and days that have followed:
“Don’t block my shine.”
Disasa, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, spoke about everyone’s brilliance, everyone’s spirit, everyone’s inner soul, which is too often blocked by naysayers, by negative people, by ourselves.
“Each of us has a unique luminosity that we inherit when we are created in God’s image,” he said. “But often in our journey through life we find that we block our own brilliance. We block it by our misguided expectations, our willful ignorance, our sin, and our busyness. It can also be blocked by unimaginative adults who forget how to play.”
I’ve thought about this a lot since his sermon, initially about people of course: How we humans often jump to conclusions about those we know little or nothing about. How I make myself interrupt or ignore or just not listen. How I question or criticize myself.
But my thoughts on blocking shine have expanded to include the holiday we’re about to celebrate: Thanksgiving.
A few days before Halloween and weeks before Disasa preached about blocking glitter, I went to Walmart. I was looking for a pumpkin t-shirt or sweater, and if I happened upon some peanut M&M’s or miniature almond joy, so much the better.
What was left of the Halloween shelves was a mess, scattered with random candy, discarded costumes, and an assortment of odd, creepy earrings and odd, creepy decorations. A few steps away and a little more organized were a dozen or so shelves laden with Christmas decorations, candles, wrapping paper and weird sweaters.
I saw nary a nod to Thanksgiving which, on the one hand, was fine: no pilgrim clothes, no turkey wreaths, no cornucopia earrings. But on the other hand, I wondered: What have we done with Thanksgiving?
And now, after absorbing Disasa’s sermon, I know: We’ve relegated it to a thin layer of holiday between a Halloween and Christmas sandwich. And in doing so, we have blocked its brilliance.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday that requires so little. It requires us to be neither fearful nor generous. Nor does it require us to spend huge sums of money on decorations or gifts or festive clothes. Instead, it’s just asking us for one simple favor: To say over and over again what may very well be the two most important words in the English (or any other) language.
To the stranger who holds the gym door open for you. The police patrolling your neighborhood or even writing you a ticket. The lifelong friend who answers the phone when you really need her. The parent who makes dinner wait so you can clean your aquarium. The teacher who stays late to explain what you didn’t quite understand. The barista thanking you for stopping by. The neighbor who covers your outdoor faucets when the temperature drops. The friends in spin class who make you laugh when you have no breath left for anything else.
And in moments when we feel overwhelmed with wonder or just overwhelmed, we direct that thanks to God or to our own higher power. We state it for the obvious – a healthy baby, a safe journey home, a sunrise in the mountains – as well as the complex simplicity of every breath, every step, every beat of every amazing heart we have.
“Thank you” matters. To us who say it or us who hear it; whether we shout it or whisper it or write it down, “thank you” matters. Research has shown that gratitude, which is what saying “thank you” is all about, helps us sleep better, fights stress, promotes connections with others. But you don’t need science to know that we feel good about saying it or hearing it or reading it in a thank you letter.
“It warms my heart to tears when I witness selfless acts,” said Debi Joynt. She works with volunteers at the Houn’ House, the kennel owned by the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas, making sure dogs are out in all weathers, at any time of the year.
“The world needs more selfless acts of love like these, and I always make sure to thank these wonderful people. I truly appreciate them, and they deserve to know.”
And they do. Every day on the nonprofit’s Facebook pages, she calls out volunteers by name and says over and over, “Thank you. Thanks. Thanks.”
Thanksgiving reminds us of the power of that two-word phrase. So we’ll be saying it a lot that day, and maybe we’ll make a point of saying it to the helpful and exasperated store clerk when we head to the mall the next day. And then we make sure to say it to the mailman, to the flight attendant, to your mother – who never fails to say “thank you” for the dinner you brought or for being such a wonderful daughter. And may we keep saying it.
This is the Thanksgiving gift, and all it requires of us. So when you get right down to it, the hoopla would probably ruin this good sport of a vacation. Whether to create pressure to exchange Thanksgiving gifts or to adorn our homes and yards with carved Pilgrims and Native Americans; if we were to get all worked up about commercials for frozen turkeys starting on Labor Day, then we would have let it down. We would have covered its precious and unassuming shine – much more than being overlooked at Walmart.
So we say “thank you”. And if an opportunity to do so slips by, we might write a note to the person whose kindness we overlooked, or just remind ourselves to be sure to say it next time.
Because each utterance of these two words unites us with a different person; each one connects us to each other. Every “thank you” acknowledges and reminds us of all the good that exists on this sweet earth. And to say that it sweeps away shadows and makes room for brilliance, for glitter, for shine.
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