Grounded in gratitude

Happy (American… as in U.S.) Thanksgiving.

This is the day when folks across the U.S.A. get together to consume a lot of food, survive gatherings with many family members, and think about things they’re thankful for. If something’s missing from that list of thanks, well, the consumerist high holy day is tomorrow, so they can go out at absurd hours and take care of that missing thing. (Actually, I hear Black Friday is starting today, given the economy…)

For some, Thanksgiving is just something to be gotten over so we can barrel on toward Christmas (though, that’s starting earlier and earlier, too).

I’m no different. Well, I’m not really doing the whole Black Friday thing, but I’ll have a Thanksgiving dinner with family. I’ll eat too much and spend the afternoon moping around in a food coma and watching A Christmas Story. On Saturday, I’ll drive the four hours back to my decorated apartment and happily begin Advent festivities.

It’s always been strange to me, though, that we pick one day a year to think about being thankful. Thankful shouldn’t be a Thanksgiving thing, it should be how we live.

There’s a good chance that everyone’s going to be linking to Ann Voskamp’s blog this weekend, but it’s a strikingly lovely glimpse into what grateful living looks like. A grateful life isn’t always perfect or easy—no more than an ungrateful life—but it’s filled with beauty.

We all have reason to be grateful.

One of the common lessons we recently covered in EfM quoted Henri Nouwen, from The Road to Peace, on living out of scarcity rather than abundance: “…this sense of scarcity makes us desperate, and we turn to competition, hoarding, and a kind of parody of self-preservation. This greed extends not only to material goods but also to knowledge, friendships, and ideas. We worry that everything we possess is threatened. This is especially true in a society that grows more affluent, experiences more opportunities for hoarding and more fears of losing what has been stored, and in the process creates enemies and wars.”

Because the thing is, we are living in abundance. Americans are SO. RICH.

And yet, so afraid of losing… something. What is it we’re afraid of? Do we have so much to lose? Why is it that the richer we become, the more likely it seems we will turn to misers sitting on our piles of gold? Perhaps we should more often remember what happened to Eustace Scrubb in the dragon’s lair.

What if, instead of hoarding, we lived abundantly, in faith and hope that what we give we will receive in multiple? That loosening our grasp on worldly possessions will not kill us? Even that losing “everything” may not leave us as poor as we think?

The Eucharist is itself, by name and nature, a thanks-giving, one we participate in—indeed, celebrate—each week (more or less, depending on denomination and habit). Nothing we give—or lose—can match that greatest of gifts, but that doesn’t stop us from receiving, again and again.

How numb, how hard-hearted have we become that this does not always stir in us a gratitude deeper and wider than our fear or sense of scarcity?

We just celebrated Christ the King Sunday, when we remembered that “If Christ is king, _____ is not.” You can fill that in with whatever you like—my possessions, my job, what I eat, what I wear. You get the idea.

With that knowledge, we can act out Gospel abundance.

In a 1999 article for the Christian Century, Walter Breuggeman writes of the biblical message of abundance, a message going against the myth of scarcity, a myth increasingly pervasive a decade later amid economic troubles. Breuggeman writes, “It is, of course, easier to talk about these things than to live them. Many people both inside and outside of the church haven’t a clue that Jesus is talking about the economy. We haven’t taught them that he is. But we must begin to do so now, no matter how economically compromised we may feel. Our world absolutely requires this news. It has nothing to do with being Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, socialists or capitalists. It is much more elemental: the creation is infused with the Creator’s generosity, and we can find practices, procedures and institutions that allow that generosity to work.”

Let’s embark today on a life rooted and gratitude and embodying generosity. It won’t be easy, but it will be a gift. A blessing. Every day Thanksgiving.

_____

What are you grateful for? Do you live gratefully each day, or is grateful living something you need to work on? How do you practice this, or how might you work toward improvement?

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2 thoughts on “Grounded in gratitude

  1. Again … Yes! Everyone should be reading your blog – seriously.

    Love that Nouwen quote.

    Isn’t it interesting how gratitude and giving are so often linked?

    There’s a well known theatre director named Anne Bogart whose ideas about giving changed my life: She writes (specifically in relationship to the art-making process, but it’s obviously applicable to all interactions) that we enter into all activities with either the gift-giving impulse or the survival impulse. “Most of the choices that we make in the survival mode issue from a need for security and advancement. But the instinct for security gives access only to a small part of our creative abilities.” I could quote her forever, but the point is that if we operate from the gift-giving impulse, our experience is enhanced – we experience the world though the eyes of another and ask more of ourselves than we ever would otherwise. If I’m cooking for myself I’ll eat rice and beans every day; if I’m cooking for guests, it’s a fiesta. This break down of “impulses” has really helped me in evaluating my own actions and made it easier to see which actions will likely result, not only in the good of others, but also in my own satisfaction.

    This idea is important for Christians because of what the death and resurrection of Christ accomplished. If the work of Christ has killed death, then we can very literally afford to live without opperating from the survival impulse. The connection of these ideas for me has added flesh to the intellectual joy I’m supposed to feel about “eternal life.”

    It’s interesting, then, that you bring up the Eucharist … which also connects death and giving. So many things to think about! Thanks, Alissa.

    • Thanks, Lindsay — you’re kind.

      Great quote from Bogart. I so love the connection I see her making between the gift-giving impulse and creativity. I definitely see that played out, even in my own habits. I’m often unwilling to take creative risks with my thoughts/words because I so dislike having to own up when I’m wrong. That’s one thing I’m sort of hoping to exercise with the blog, though I find I’m still in a fairly play-it-safe place. Small steps. 🙂

      Talking about Jesus makes me think of the John “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” which I’ve always found rather moving. (John Eldredge wrote a book about that, methinks. Pearson assigned it.) And as for the Eucharist… golly, I could go on.

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