Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in difficult times

Almost twenty-fie years ago, I learned a profound lesson in thanksgiving in the midst of poverty.

In 1992 I spent a seven-month sabbatical in El Salvador, six months helping in the parish of Santa Lucía, Suchitoto, where I assisted the Salvadoran pastor and five US women religious.

They sent me out to the furthest part of the parish – a four hours walk from Suchitoto. They arranged for me to stay with Esteban Clavel (May he rest in peace) and his wife, Rosa Elbia, for several days each week.

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Esteban and Rosa Elbia 

The Clavel family had recently moved into the community of Haciendita II and had made a home in the ruins of cattle stalls. The family was large and eight of the children were living there at the time. To avoid displacing someone from a bed I brought a hammock to sleep in.

Life was simple. Each morning I heard Esteban waking the girls to go and fetch water from a source about 30 minutes away. Later the boys would go out with their father to work in the fields. Meals were simple: tortillas and beans (usually with too much salt). I would often bring coffee and a few fruits or vegetables when I came, but the diet was very boring – except when the mangos were ripe. In the rainy season water would come into the house, under the door, and there would be a small river beneath my hammock.

I helped train catechists, visited other nearby communities, and sought to be a pastoral presence. I also went out a few times to help dig the trench for the village’s water project.

What I most remember – beside the love and the hospitality the people showed me – was my experience upon awakening.

When I work up in my hammock, my first thought was “Thanks be to God.”

It wasn’t for the discomfort or the food. It was just a thank you for being there – even in the midst of the poverty. I could even say thank you when my bowels were not functioning well.

I didn’t need to have things work well to be able to give thanks.

This past month I feel as if I am re-learning this message. I have had one funeral for a couple who were killed in their home. I went with my neighbors to the site of two men killed in Plan Grande and prayed at the side of the coffin of one of them. I visited the prison for a workshop on nonviolence and met one young man who has been in prison for more than a year without a trial and two other young men who seem to be imprisoned for what in the US we might have labeled legitimate defense. Yesterday I visited a seventeen-year old who is bedridden, possibly from kidney failure and an inflamed liver, and who suffers from anemia. Her nine-month old child, though, is doing well.

These days it is cold and rainy – with lots of mud.

Yet I feel grateful – to these people who welcome me and respond to me with such generosity. The other day someone gave me a bag of oranges and would not take any money for them. Yesterday, after giving a ride to a few guys returning from their coffee fields, one gave me two oranges.

In all this, God is present, sustaining me.

And for all this I give thanks.


Yesterday a visitor from Ames and I spent the day with Padre German.

We first went to Mass in Pasquingual where Padre German gave a forceful sermon. What I most remember was his remarks about the reading from the book of Daniel, chapter 5, about the banquet feast where the king used the gold and silver cups and plates of the temple.

Among many points, he suggested that to be eating off of gold and silver plates means that we have gotten all this by oppressing others, from stealing from others. I had never read that passage in that way, but it makes a lot of sense, especially here in Honduras.

After Mass we returned to the parish center where a meal was ready for us – but not on gold plates.

In the afternoon we headed for El Prado de la Cruz for a Mass, remembering a man from the community who had died a year ago. The Mass was delayed because of a community meeting and so we got back to Dulce Nombre late.

Before getting to the parish to pick up my car, Padre wanted to stop to visit an ill older man.

We found where he lived and went to the simple room where this 93 year old man lay on his cot. He was weak and a bit deaf but he was full of life and even joy. His daughter-in-law took care of him since he couldn’t get up and walk.

We stayed around as Padre German talked with him, amazed at his joy despite being confined to bed.

The family brought us coffee and sweat bread.

One of the sons came and his wife, the daughter-in-law explained how she cared for him. She even mentioned that her husband had recently had back surgery.

I could not help thinking about the years where I cared for my father when he was confined to bed for the last years of his life.

I was filled with a deep gratitude for this old man and those who cared for him.

As we drove back to the parish center to pick up my car, tears filled my eyes as I recalled my father and this old man.

They were not tears of sorrow but tears of gratitude – for the woman and her husband who cared for the old man, for the opportunity I had to care for Dad, for the life and deep joy of the man confined to his bed, and for the gift of playfulness that my Dad gave me.

For all this I am grateful – and today just happens to beThanksgiving.

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Dad and I

Learning Thanksgiving from the Poor

I think I first really understood what gratitude is when I lived for several months with the poor in 1992.

On a sabbatical from my work in campus ministry in Ames, I spent six months in the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador, assisting the work of the Salvadoran pastor and the five US sisters who had served there during the war.

They asked me to help in the farthest region of the parish, a four hour walk from Suchitoto. There I had the blessing to stay with Esteban and Rosa Elbia Clavel who had turned the ruins of cattle stalls into a house for their many children. So that I wouldn’t put anyone out of a bed I brought a hammock to sleep in.

The community was new, mostly of people who had fled the war and had found this land unused and abandoned. Esteban and his family had fled to Honduras during the civil war after he, a delegate of the Word, had received a series of death threats.

The house was small but the family was so open to my presence among them.

Every morning I would awake with Esteban calling on his daughters to get up and walk about 30 minutes to get water.  The food was simple – tortillas and beans, often too salty, but it was shared. (I usually brought some vegetables or fruit to share whenever I came.)

The house was adequate but during the rainy season the water seeped under the door and passed under my hammock.

In the midst of this, I woke up many a morning with three words on my lips and engraved in my heart – ¡Gracias a Dios! Thanks be to God!

Some of this, I know, was due to the love I received from the Clavel family as well as from others in the parish.

But it was in the midst of poverty that I really discovered what thanksgiving is – a sense that all is gift, that God is good even though the situation may be horrid, and that all is gift.

I did not need things, nor even an education, to be able to give thanks. All I needed was to recognize the love of God all around me, which I found most in the love of the people I lived and worked with.

Since that time I have had a deeper understanding that our spirituality must begin with gratitude, with giving thanks.

Gustavo Gutiérrez, the father of liberation theology, put it well in We Drink from Our Own Wells:

In the final analysis, to believe in God means to live our life as a gift from God and to look upon everything that happens in it as a manifestation of this gift.

All is gift.

All is grace.

¡Gracias a Dios!