I used to love Thanksgiving. Helping my mother stuff a gigantic turkey, one that barely fed our large family, was always a treat. I’d set the table for her as well, putting out the good china and crystal in anticipation of an evening of food, conversation, and music with my siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
I am not feeling it the same way these days. My children live in different states so we won’t celebrate together this year, thus muting the festivity a bit. The foods are way too rich and filling for my tastes and the holiday’s connection with Black Friday make the weekend an exercise in gluttony.
Even so, I love the prayer of thanksgiving. As a traditional form of Christian prayer it asks for nothing and expresses gratitude for everything. It also fits in beautifully with the connection between the holiday and harvest. Anyone with access to the magnificence of autumn knows how easy it is to give thanks for the crisp air, brightly-colored leaves, and pumpkin patches spread across the landscape.
If ever there was an “expert” in the prayer of thanksgiving, it is Brother David Steindl-Rast. His writings and web site (gratefulness.org) explore the depths of this prayer and, in doing so, draw deeply from the contemplative tradition. One of his richest insights is distinguishing between gratefulness and thanksgiving. The former precedes the latter. Gratefulness is a deeply intrinsic response to the world around us and to God’s gracious presence within it. Before reaching the mind with specific expressions of thanksgiving, the heart simply wakes up and takes in the bounty of God’s goodness. A key factor in living a grateful life is being open to surprise. This, in turn, leads to a recognition that all we have is gift. Like a pebble plopped into a pond, surprise ripples outward, enabling us to become more aware of the bounty that enfolds us. As Brother David puts it, “In the end, gratefulness will be our full aliveness to a gratuitously given world.” What a wonderful way to make the celebration of Thanksgiving fulfilling instead of simply “overfilling!”
A Prayer of Thanksgiving
When we gather for Eucharist each Sunday, we give thanks and praise for the gift of Jesus Christ. Follow the Sundays of the Liturgical Year with reflections for yourself and your students or families.