“You’ve been living in Texas for years now, and you still haven’t been to the rodeo?” asked Raquel incredulously.
“Not exactly,” I protested years ago to my San Antonian friend, hoping my spiritual retreat at a Texas dude ranch would qualify as my cultural initiation to the Lone Star State. “And besides, in my college bar days, I endured too many inebriated ‘cowboy wannabes’ on mechanical bulls. They severely compromised my enthusiasm for the sport.”
Alas, my less-than-subtle disinterest was to no avail. Refusing to accept “no” for an answer, Raquel insisted on securing two front-row seats at the annual rodeo and livestock spectacular when it trekked from Fort Worth to San Antonio. With no ten-gallon hats to obstruct our view of the bull riding, calf roping, and steer wrestling competitions, our VIP seat selections afforded us the full sensory experience!
However, we weren’t prepared for the overwhelming smell of manure from the arena pit immediately below. Nor did we expect to be showered in it every time the animals aggressively rounded the corner!
(Note to self when seated in the front row at my next rodeo extravaganza: Absolutely no open containers; leave the whitewash jeans in a closet; and bring the Willie Nelson bandana for a nose covering.)
Let us consider Jim Wakefield’s metaphor, “Rodeo is about life lessons, and not just about belt buckles and winning.” Fair enough. Life is far more than winning a competition—bridled or otherwise. By the same token, we seldom prefer to lose—be it a job, an investment, or a close friend. And when we lose, it is so easy to lose perspective as well. By no means should we deny the significance of what we lost, but neither should the loss negate our appreciation for what we still have.
If a rodeo offers a few secrets of life, then what metaphor can I draw from personal experience? “Even from the sidelines, we never know what life throws at us.” Thus, instead of being a spectator through life, why not seize the day—carpe diem—take the bull by the horns, so to speak!
For me, one way to be fully alive, to actively engage in the sport of living, is to approach the day in a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude gives me perspective. For example, if I start lamenting how much better any given situation could be, gratitude helps me realize the situation could just as easily be much worse. All things in life are relative. Thanksgiving for God’s abundant blessings balances my perspective.
The journalist J. Robert Moskin wrote, “Thanksgiving comes to us out of prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and faiths.” Muslims pray five times a day to thank God, and devout Jews recite the Amidah three times daily, a prayer that concludes with gratitude.
Jesus, as a devout Jew, also would have offered brief prayers of gratitude throughout the day, such as before dressing and eating. “Indeed, even the common daily task of washing one’s hands called for thanksgiving,” explains Edward Hays in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim. “Blessing prayers were recited in gratitude for any number of reasons: for the safe return from a journey, for recovery from an illness, for being forgiven, for the coming of a feast or the beginning of a new season.”
A worthwhile practice is to count our blessings at the beginning or end of each day. If we’re already in the habit of asking God’s forgiveness through an examination of conscience each night before going to bed, the examen can be coupled with a litany of profound gratitude to God for all the blessings received that day.
This litany may include thanksgiving to God for such things as blessing us with life to witness another day, the gift of our health, the comforts of friendship and family, and the safety and well-being of ourselves and others. Usually at the top of my list are the two greatest blessings God gave me—my mother and father.
Remember to include the blessings from God that are easily overlooked or often taken for granted: the work we do and the fulfillment it provides, the freedoms we enjoy in this country, the education we received and our teachers, the gift of our faith through Jesus Christ, the company of the saints and our Blessed Mother for their intercession, and the sustenance derived from God’s word and the sacraments—especially the Eucharist. (Incidentally, even Eucharist is derived from a Greek word that means “thanksgiving”!)
In the spirit of this holiday season, let us also recall Shabbat for Jews, the day of rest observed from Friday at sundown until Saturday night. On Friday evening, parents traditionally place their hands on the heads or shoulders of their children as they bless them. Consider adopting this tender practice as a new tradition in your home on Thanksgiving Day. Likewise, the children might return a blessing to their parents and grandparents, too.
In Thanksgiving season or out, a grateful heart makes it easier for us to saddle up and face whatever life throws at us. And that’s no bull!