Harvest festivals, like our American Thanksgiving, are found all over the world. From Korean Chuseok to Jewish Succoth, many farming societies developed rituals to mark the end of the harvest season, often with large parties and tons of good food.
Spain has numerous local and regional festivities for the harvest season, which I am sure includes awesome parties. However, most of their harvests (and parties) had already happened by the late summer when I had walked the Camino Santiago. And so, I passed acres and acres of brown and empty fields. But one crop that was still unharvested was the sunflower.
These bright yellow flowers orient themselves toward the sun as it travels from horizon to horizon. They physically turn themselves to maximize their absorption of the sun’s beams. I was grateful to see these bright yellow streaks amidst the Meseta’s monotonous stretches of brown fallow land.
From sunflowers, we can learn two lessons: we should orient ourselves more fully to the Son, and be a bright spot amidst barren stretches of land. As St. Paul writes, be “perfect in holiness…whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thes 5:23) We can orient ourselves towards the Son and refresh those around us by being grateful.
Gratitude is incredibly profound. It simultaneously turns us towards God and brightens the landscape around us by making us holy. We humble ourselves when we are thankful because we recognize that we have received something. We open ourselves and become aware of the good that is in our lives: a bright field of sunflowers, an iridescent rainbow, the happy gurgling of an infant, the antics of a rambunctious 2-year-old, the warm voice of an old friend, a particularly striking skyscraper, or a hot coffee on a cold morning. With practice, we can see in more incredible ways the sublimity of God. When we open ourselves to the wonder of God’s creation, we can see the bright patches of yellow in the seemingly barren world around us. All it takes is a moment of turning ourselves to our Creator and show others the glory of God that we see and hear.
When we practice gratitude, it affects those around us. As we become more open, we can cause a chain reaction: people see, and they, in turn, open themselves up. When we turn towards God, it inevitably turns us towards our neighbors and makes us reach out in goodwill to pay forward what we have received.
In this pandemic, loneliness and isolation are a significant struggle for many of us and make it difficult to see the good around us. Despite this, we can redouble our efforts and practice the virtue of gratitude, recognizing that God continuously showers his gifts upon us through our lives and those around us. We need to be like the sunflower and turn towards God and show others the good around us. This year’s Thanksgiving celebrations may be quite different from what we are used to, but let’s strive to be open amidst the challenges. We may not have grand parties with tons of good food right now, but we have a greater hope in the future, in the greatest of parties: in our eternal reward. We will celebrate the greatest of all harvests. Let’s be grateful for that.
Br. David Woo, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE