For November 23, 2011: Thanksgiving Eve

The Reading            Deuteronomy 8:7-18

Moses speaks the words of our Old Testament reading as the people of Israel stand on the bank of the Jordan, ready to enter Canaan. It is a very good land, blessed in resources and in room to spread out and prosper: what a contrast to their current circumstances! Moses warns them—and us—not to get cocky: whether we have much or little, burgeoning families or solitude, robust health or chronic problems, the good we have is nothing more nor less than the gift of God.

 

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 9:6-15

In today’s Epistle, Paul explains to the Corinthians how to give rightly. In short, we are to give gladly, and to give in thanks for all the good that we have received from the generosity of God.

 

 

Further thoughts

What is required for gratitude?

Maturity helps: a small child has to be taught to say “Thank you,” because the small child simply doesn’t recognize the giver as separate person with his or her own agenda and needs. Humility is certainly important: people who believe that they deserve to have everything are notorious for not remembering to give thanks. So is a lack of complacency: the person who is used to having or getting everything may not realize that thanks are even appropriate.

Now humility leads to thankfulness—but the evil shadow of humility is humiliation. When one feels humiliated it is as impossible to be genuinely thankful (because the gift has, so to speak, knives in it) as it is to be genuinely generous (because a gift that is forced is no gift). Worse, humiliation teaches a person that the gift she can give—including the gift of her heart and goodwill—is worthless.

That is, humiliation breaks hope. Without hope we see no point in asking, no point in so much as looking up to see whether any good might be coming—and, I fear, we lose the ability even to recognize good when it comes.

Humiliation and hopelessness together make a prison. Breaking out, and staying out, is very difficult. But the practice of gratitude can begin to open the door.  Practicing gratitude obviously helps us learn gratitude, of course, and through it we model gratitude for those, like children, who haven’t learned how. Less obviously, the practice of gratitude implies that the people we thank are worth thanking; it is our validation of their worth and dignity and our recognition of them (and ourselves) as the hands and feet and faces of our overflowingly generous God.

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