Season of Thanksgiving
Hi everybody. Huh, think of that phrase Every-body. It’s meaning is clear, but do we reflect on it, every and all able-bodied individuals? Then there are those who are not able-bodied, this in no way means they are not somebodies. Every-body is somebody and nobody is ever a write-off!
Simply put, we all have value and can contribute in a significant way to another, to society, or as some say to the body as a whole.
I’ve been talking to you lately about the ‘Season of Thanksgiving’, which extends from mid-September, early October, through Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day, on through Western Christmas and the New Year Celebration to Orthodox Christmas, which includes the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ from January 7th to the 19th. Remember that song? Wow, we have so much given to us to be thankful for!
Our family was watching one of our favourite yearly, in between, Remembrance/Thanksgiving movies, kinda as a reflection. It is the film called Sergeant York, a story of a farmer and his impoverished family in the hills of Tennessee. It stars Gary Cooper, set in the time of WWI, and the rough, unforgiving environment, of the rocky mountain soil and storms, in which he lives.
His father dead and his mother, a faithful make-do church goer, depended upon him, as the eldest brother to a much younger brother and sister, to plow and plant the shallow rock infested soil working out a scant harvest each year. This, along with his excellent trapping and hunting skills, enabled he and his younger brother to corner and bag enough meat for them to survive. Frustrated by the unrelenting heaviness of his life, he acts out along with two of his trouble-making friends of similar ilk. Drunkenness and rebel-rousing in this small community attempts to upset it’s apparently fragile structure, but the stalwart nobodies of this place hold on to their convictions and entrust him to God’s ways.
Still, with all the oppression he feels, a dream in Alvin York survives. One of a piece of good bottom-land, where the erosion of the rich mountain nutrients had settled over time from the hard top-land storms. Interested in a young woman and vocal about his determination, and because there was another interested man jealous for her attentions, young Alvin York made an agreement to buy the land by a certain deadline. He faithfully worked his family’s land, and took on any other way (ways) to raise money he could find: cutting trees and splitting wood, removing rocks for other farmers, selling fox pelts for coins, and even selling his hard working mule to raise the cash but still he came up short. Yet even with the scarcity of work, he still persuaded the seller to give him an extension.
Throughout all of this, the local pastor and his mother pray for his hard determination to yield to God’s way of providence (provide-ance). In a candid conversation over a rock in the field which just won’t move, the pastor talks about listening to God and moving around the opposition instead of driving forward in the fear and fixation. Sharing some obstacles we must recognize and alter our course in response to, because they can be more a part of the way of things than ours focus. Alvin courteously listens, but admits he has had trouble perceiving God’s direction. The pastor, using imagery Alvin could understand, shares perceiving comes upon some gently, like the slow rising of the dawn, and to others it comes like a strike of lightening. In earnest consideration the pastor counsels him to release his ways and let the intervention come, because, if he keeps pressing his ways, it may have to come like a lightning strike.
In equal sincerity, young Mr. York, mistaking the message as one of looking for obvious opportunity applies the message along the lines of his own determination instead. Imagining a way through, he gets an idea of how to raise the remainder of the money needed for the property. A local shooting competition offered a large turkey as a mid-level prize. He had just enough money, so he entered. His adept shooting skills show themselves and he wins the turkey to sell it, and enters into a further competition for a large bull, with the intention of putting it up for another immediate competition to raise money for the purchase of the property.
His plan succeeds and he gains the money, but, just like the enemy of our souls, circumstances conspire against him and the property is sold by the owner to his jealous rival.
Enraged, at the breaking of his word, young Alvin intends to go after the two with murder in his eyes. And in a mountain rain storm along the way, the rifle he intended to use was struck by lightning, knocking him and his high horse down to the ground. The gun is destroyed and Alvin gets the message. He dedicates his life to God, his good book and it’s ways, asks for forgiveness from the astounded property seller and apologizes to the man who bought the property out from under him, who admits he bought it just to spite him. He offers for him a work to own the land in a few years, type deal.
Goals are good and right to have, working with our hands can be pure, yet not as an end in itself, but, instead, as a part of a greater directive ordained by a good God. So, as good as this seemed, it becomes a temptation to lock in on the property instead of God’s demonstration of his directing in life.
As his means of providence, the strength of his arms and back could bring him down again.
Life intervenes and a call for the draft is made. He protests as a conscientious objector, is denied and compelled to go to war. Yet Alvin is confused by the apparent reversal of logic in his life. He had accepted God’s governance over his life, things were working in a life affirming direction, and he was no longer a selfish, violent man. Yet it was at that point he was called to go to war, separated from his life’s focus of land, home, love and peacefulness. A gun had now become to him a weapon of violence, not a provision for life in hunting.
His skill with a gun elevates him to the ranks of corporal as an instructor for rifle training and by extension their practical tactical use, due to his hunting skills. Further still, he encounters two particularly understanding commanding officers, who listen to his concerns but make a deep appeal for the protection of country, and brothers in arms, even referring to the scriptures to speak in his own language. They give him an opportunity to be released from the army but ask him, first, to take a leave and go home to consider his decision. In long sincere prayer, reflection, reading the Bible and a book on the lives of genuine people of the past, given to him by one of those officers, he comes to the decision he must stay in the army.
Trusting himself to God’s greater vision, he is propelled into war and his commanding officer is killed in the battle, along with virtually the whole division. With no-body else to command, he is given an unofficial field promotion by the seven remaining men, so he responds. He orders them all to stay nested in, and in an act of precision shooting and strategy he flanks the enemy in their trenches causing them to surrender. He and seven other men bring in a large group of enemy soldiers, saving the seven and the lives of the enemy soldiers as well. He is given the rank of Sergeant and honoured as a hero.
Others, tempted to be celebrate, give endorsement money and use his recognition for other goals attempt to guide his life. But he sees it for what it is, like his own life used to be, the struggle for significance, to be a some-body. He declines and asks to go home.
After returning home, he feels he is still a no-body, measuring himself by the world’s expectations. But he finds himself among the gratefulness of those sincere from the army, every-body in the salt of the earth community he came from, and the intention of a Loving God and His ways. His future wife takes him to a spot on the land he wanted to buy where she shares it’s all theirs, including a beautiful home built just as they had talked about.
There are so many around the world who struggle the way Alvin York did, in poverty, to such a level, tomorrow may be their last day. This struggle is to the bone and today, during covid times, even children who beg are not approached by those who would normally give. Most of us, in our lives, are far from this degree of apart-ness. We are still blessed, and at this time many charities need the help to reach the destitute. Please, be thankful, as Sergeant York learned, and let the provide-ance of God reach through you and bless a confused and struggling life, and maybe even give purpose.