Oh, no! It’s that time of year when we have to be grateful again!
Last year a reporter from a local news outlet called the church I was serving and asked me about what clergy did for Thanksgiving. Well, he had a job to do. I didn’t tell him that in many Christian liturgical traditions, the Great Thanksgiving is the central act of the worship service. I didn’t say that the word “eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” I didn’t say those things because I didn’t want to be snarky, even if I sometimes have an ungrateful, snide and snarky heart.
I also didn’t tell him my own feelings which are that we do make too much of being thankful on Thanksgiving when it’s a no-brainer that we’re supposed to be thankful for lots of things all of the time. So what did I say? Nothing very interesting, I’m afraid.
Recently I found an old issue of Real Simple magazine that had a feature article called “Gratitude Check” in which the author coaches parents on how to stave off a sense of entitlement in their children and instill a sense of gratitude. Really? We need help in teaching our kids to say thank you, not pester their parents for too many things and be generous in sharing? I must have been a fabulous mother to have pulled that off without needing professional guidance.
Everybody knows you’re supposed to be grateful and not simply by rote. It is some kind of blend of wonder and discipline to practice genuine gratitude--that open-hearted, guileless state of near-grace. And we only achieve that by paying close attention. And by being vulnerable. But mostly we’re too busy and too guarded to bother doing or being either.
The other day I was re-reading parts of “For I Will Consider My Cat, Jeoffry” by the brilliant eighteenth-century poet, Christopher Smart. Smart spent much of his adult life in a madhouse beset with religious mania. Yet his poems—near orgiastic raptures of imagery and sensuality—reveal a wonderful capacity to take notice of the world around him and to savor it, to bask in it deeply.
“For I Will Consider My Cat, Jeoffry" is a long list of a poem in which he notes Jeoffry’s various and wondrous attributes:
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
Reading the poem reminded me of how I used to watch my daughters when they were little. I took notice of them--their dark eyes, their special markings, their baby smells and soft heads—and learned more about what it means to be incarnated than I could possibly have in my seminary studies.
I think we grow too busy to truly pay attention and so our sense of thankfulness and our capacity for praise becomes diluted. Liking something on Facebook is not the same as giving praise. And a hastily spoken prayer before the procession of the Thanksgiving dishes is not the same as being grateful.
That other purveyor of wonder, food writer and memoirist MFK Fisher wrote, “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” It is my hope for you on Thanksgiving that, as you gather at your tables and after whatever rote prayer may be recited, you will consider the table—those at table and those who labored to make what is on the table—and let your hearts be truly lifted up.