The giving of thanks

Column by David Cox

Some old-timers will remember Emily Penick Pearse, a doyenne among other things among Lee Chapel docents. As such, she once met a monk named David Steindl-Rast who happened to be a noted author on matters spiritual. One of his books was called, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. His explanation indicated to me why this feast of Thanksgiving is so important: It draws us out of ourselves and into a larger scope, all based upon gratitude.

He observed that being truly thankful is among the few genuinely selfless moments. A person recognizes the generosity of another, turning outward, away from oneself and toward the one who has offered this gift—be it an act, thought, emotion, item, whatever it may be.

An author named Margaret Visser just published a book entitled The Gift of Thanks that suggests much the same. Genuine gratitude, she says, the kind that doesn’t expect something in return which becomes a form of bartering, “is always a matter of paying attention.” It means “deliberately beholding and appreciating the other.”

Gratitude, she continues, is a view on the world which does not take things for granted but moves toward an attitude of appreciation for all things. “Gratitude arises from a specific circumstance—being given a gift or done a favor—but depends less upon that than on the receiver’s whole life, her character, upbringing, maturity, experience, relationships with others, and also on her ideals, including her idea of the sort of person she is or would like to be.”

Thanksgiving, then, might be our least egocentric of holidays. For all its feasting (and overfeasting), at heart it’s not about the self, and what we get, but rather about the other(s)—the one(s) who are the source of the blessings we savor.

That’s why I think Thanksgiving is so important to each of us, and to all of us as we gather together throughout the nation to offer gratitude.

First, it causes some recollection not on what we have, not what we don’t. In a year when the economy stinks, Thanksgiving provides a healthy reminder of the positives that abound—of family and friends, of health (God willing), of home and food whether or not it matches previous years’ plenitude, of a beautiful earth especially in our corner of it, indeed of life itself. It’s a time for counting blessings.

In so doing, Thanksgiving can turn us away from ourselves, and toward those who are the sources of those blessings—the earth itself, the people who surround us, our community, our nation, our world, and for those so inclined, our God.

That combination, of counting blessings and contemplating the sources of them, goes a long way toward breeding a positive perspective. This itself is a gift, especially now. Far from simply slapping a happy face on a dreary situation, it develops an attitude of appreciating the tremendum of blessings that surround nearly all of us every day, every minute.

In a moment when the national mood is ugly, filled with fear and anger and rancor and uncertainty over wars and health care and economic revival/survival and the future of our land, I think Thanksgiving couldn’t come at a more opportune time. For, beholding the richness that surrounds and infuses our lives, it gives real cause not only for thanks, but also for a genuine confidence in our future…in a much-used, sometimes-abused word, hope. And hope has always been what this nation is about.

As a dear friend of my younger days would say throughout the year, “Happy Turkey!” And a hope-filled Thanksgiving to all.



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