Thanksgiving Lite vs. True Gratitude

Like just about every other thoughtful person, I’m a little queasy when I hear all the Christian-lite bromides at this time of year. “Thank you for our health.” So the ailing are hated of God? “Thank you for our family.” Pagans have families, too; so do murdering drug-cartel kingpins. “Thank you for peace.” Well, sort of… only don’t go for an evening walk without a concealed weapon unless you live in an exclusive gated community; and if it’s peace in the world to which you refer, I guess you mean, “Thank you for not making me Mexican, so that I don’t inhabit a nation that produced 21,000 murders last year and 30,000 surviving casualties.”

That’s a little Pharisaical, don’t you think? “Thank you for not making me like that filthy publican at the altar.”

And then we have the unnerving fact that what we fear and loathe most is often what we most need. We don’t know what to be thankful for. Maybe our raise is just going to plunge us into a more materialistic lifestyle. Maybe being bumped to part-time will make us become more creative and independent. Should we be thankful that we can afford to view more trashy Hollywood movies and stuff ourselves on more sweets and fats… or should we be thankful that we’re now having to read books for amusement and grow potatoes and beans in the back yard? How we hate being forced into virtue! When that doesn’t happen, we’re so damn thankful!

I have enough of the old pagan in me that I’m almost afraid to be thankful for anything, lest I make a target out of myself. “Thanks for our prosperous investments… oh, my God! Did you see how much the Dow just plunged?” There’s an Irish saying that runs, Mol an là um trathnóna—“Praise the day as the sun goes down.” It’s the same sentiment that we find at the end of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and ascribed to Solon by Herodotus: “Let no man be called blessed before he is safely dead and secure from the world’s shocks.”

In my more Christian moments, however—truly Christian—I know that I must die to this world some day, and I am grateful for the little clues that alert me to a “winding down”. I am grateful that I can see a way to start tying loose ends together—to leave some sort of legacy that will warn others against living just for the here and now. And, yes, I’m grateful for something to put on the table. “Let each day’s worries be sufficient unto itself.” I am grateful that we get by, that the sun and the rain fall on good and evil alike, and that the means of survival are always within reach of the humble and hard-working. I want to learn more about those means in my final years, and I want to do more about passing them along. Simply feeling the days lengthen and then shorten, simply studying how the earth grows food and then gives it up to those who know her secrets, is a vitally important part of understanding bountifulness and feeling gratitude for it.

I am not grateful to this culture we have created which has carried us so far away from such understanding and such gratitude.