OGOC Interfaith Thanksgiving Service
In Paul the Apostle’s letter to the church in Colossae, he offers a list of positive appeals meant to encourage the body of believers in all goodness and virtue. Compassion, kindness, humility, patience. And it is love which binds everything together harmoniously. Only at the end does he write, “let peace rule in your hearts, to which you were called in the one body.” Oh, “And be thankful.”
At first glance it appears that the Apostle tacks on thankfulness as if it were an afterthought.
But I would suggest that this passage is like one great crescendo that leads up to perhaps the greatest, blessed-of-God virtues of them all, together with love, and that is thankfulness. Paul, who here and elsewhere in his letters seems to have a penchant for verbosity and long convoluted sentences, sums it up with one three-word sentence: “And be thankful.”
Anne Lamott, in her own inimitable way, wrote that
“Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.”1
When, as Lamott says, “gratitude dovetails into behavior” she means that when we say “thank you” to someone, that “thank you” becomes, in some small way, part of their story and ours as well. Or maybe it’s not small at all but reverberates into further acts of love and goodwill. Joy resides in thanksgiving which results in service.
Sheikh Itaya Islam writes about how “gratitude has recently become a focus in laboratory study.”
“There is a positive psychological [and spiritual] effect in feeling thankful that results in appreciating life as it is. We must learn to be aware of and to appreciate the good things in this world to prevent taking them for granted.”2
“Appreciating life as it is.” We know and God knows that not all of life is pleasant and rewarding and satisfying. When life is painful, fearsome, full of grief, unsettling, we look for ways that God shines a ray of hope through the actions and ministrations of others but also through sheer divine mystery. These glimmers of hope bring about faith and trust which resounds in gratitude. The ironic thing is that when things are going well is when we forget how God is working in our lives which leads to ingratitude and thanklessness.
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs writes in his blog that
the first words [Jews] are taught to say each morning, immediately on waking, are Modeh ani, "I give thanks." We thank before we think. Note that the normal word order is inverted: Modeh ani, not ani modeh, so that in Hebrew the "thanks" comes before the "I." Judaism is "gratitude with attitude." And this, according to recent scientific research, really is a life-enhancing idea. ...
Jewish prayer is an ongoing seminar in gratitude.3
Our respective religious traditions teach us that from the time we wake until the time we rest, gratitude is to be cultivated in the soil of human flourishing. Whether that be in good times or bad, the ultimate effect is life-giving. It is not just a matter of remembering to say “thank you” from time to time to God and to each other, as important as that is. It should become a state of mind, a condition of being human, a way of living, a way of dying to new life.
“Gratitude is never unresponsive,” writes Thomas Merton. It “is constantly awakening to new wonder, and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” So may it be.
1) Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow: The 3 Essential Prayers (Riverhead Books), 2012.
2) Itaya Isalm, “The Power of Expressing Gratitude,” Islamicity.org
3) Jonathan Sachs, “Giving Thanks,” www.rabbisachs.org
4) Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 1999