On Gratitude

In my native Puerto Rico Thanksgiving Day is an important holiday. We wear our Sunday’s best and wake up early in the morning to gather for worship. It is fitting that we begin this holy-day gathered as a community of faith to praise God and to give thanks.

Many had woken up earlier. They had gathered at the church and gone door to door serenading members and friends, marking the holiday and in its own way inviting all to gather to give thanks.

It was only after the gathering, after the time of praise and thanksgiving, that we joined family for the feast. I would argue that this was the only way that we could truly understand the feasting.

I miss those days in my native land! Now it seems that most of the time what takes precedence is not the giving of thanks but the eating of food (and lots of it!). In fact I will agree with Elyssa East who on “A Movable Feast,” an op-ed in the New York Times, writes:

“In the nearly 400 years since the first thanksgiving, the holiday has come to mirror our transformation into a nation of gross overconsumption.”

The holiday of giving thanks has become a holiday to food, possession, and overconsumption. We gather not to give thanks but to eat, not to praise God but to watch football, not to remember all that God has done but to “pat ourselves on the back” for all that we have accomplished. In other words no holy-day at all!

I wonder what it will take to turn the tide, to bring us to an attitude of true gratitude?

Gratitude is not just giving thanks. One can easily say “thank-you” and not be grateful. We do it everyday, someone gives us something or does something for us and we say “thank-you.” Quickly returning to something else, quickly forgetting.

Gratitude is a way of seeing. In its practice we acknowledge that all that we have, all that we enjoy, all that we are, everything around us, is a gift from God. We have not earned it or deserve it but have received it and for that we have no other response but gratitude. This way of seeing begins to transform us and align us more and more with God’s purposes for humanity and all of creation.

A true thanksgiving begins with the acknowledgement of God as creator and giver of all. From there it moves us to gathering. Friend and stranger alike enjoying true blessings: peace, healing, love! Enjoying a God whose table is open, who constantly gives of self for the life of the world.

Maybe if we live this way of life we would be surprised. We would find ourselves being “captured by gratitude” as Wendell Berry so aptly put it in his novel Jayber Crow. Once “captured” we would have no choice but to get up early, sing songs of praise and gather around table with love ones and strangers, friends and enemies, with all of God’s children.

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