Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Spirituality of Thanksgiving

I recently saw this fascinating article on the spirituality of gratitude. It is written by Father Kevin Goodrich, an Anglican Dominican priest. May it help prepare our hearts for Thanksgiving. I long for a more grateful heart, aware of the blessing of each breath, each moment, and each glimpse of beauty.

"Thank God" is perhaps the most basic form of prayer in Western civilization. Even if we didn’t grow up in a home that immersed itself in a rich tradition of spirituality most people would have some familiarity with the idea of table grace. In my work with families over the years I’ve always been amused by the "forced" thankfulness of some young people. If you’re a parent or where once a child you probably know what I’m talking about. Here is how it works. A parent comes to pick up their child from some activity at school, sports, or church. As they leave the parent inevitably says, "Did you say thank you?" to which the child replies with a monotone "thank you," as he/she walks off to the car. In families where manners are valued the idea of please and thank you are drilled into children from infancy. I’m not complaining about this because it was drilled into me and I’m glad it was.

Yet I wonder how much of this robotic responsiveness to thankfulness continues to influence our spirituality of thankfulness as adults. Consider the fact that in general we tend to approach thankfulness as an obligation and not as spontaneous response of gratitude. We write thank you notes because we’re supposed to, and we say thank you to gifts, lunches, and compliments that are less than appealing because we want to be polite. Recent events in our country and across the world bring out glints of genuine thankfulness in our hearts and from our lips. When a crisis strikes a neighbor or a different part of the country we are often reminded of our blessings. We pause to consider that our life isn’t so bad after all and we are very grateful that whatever tragedy has struck, hasn’t struck in our backyard.

Even this kind of thankfulness fails to capture the spirit of Christian thankfulness rooted in the Bible. It is true thankfulness but in a way it’s a thankfulness that says "I’m glad those other people got hurt, and not me." Closer to the Biblical notion of thankfulness is the mere acknowledged of your heartbeat. The simple thanks for the air you breathe or an innate sense of gratitude when watching children playing. It’s a thankfulness that has been placed deep in our hearts by the Spirit of God. It’s a posture that we as followers of Jesus are to approach life with.

Life may have its up and downs, but we won’t change our posture. Christians are fundamentally called to be a thanksgiving people. Are you a thanksgiving person?