Happy Thanksgiving! Just around the time the Christmas shopping industry calls us to notice what we don’t have and to focus on things we really, really want, the national Thanksgiving holiday calls us to step away from our usual Thursday routines and focus on gratitude for what we already have. The practice of gratitude is a basic spiritual practice; far from being the focus of one day each year, it’s an important part of daily spiritual discipline for many of us.
About half a century ago, before adults worried about whether children had what Richard Louv has termed nature-deficit disorder, my most constant experiences of gratitude came through nearly daily experiences of nature. Our church and Sunday school made little explicit connection between this and the things we talked about on Sundays; one of the few revelations of the connection was in the hymn “For the beauty of the earth” that happened to be one of our regular Sunday school songs. Here’s a lovely version of it:
Gratitude is basic to spiritual practice because it’s intertwined with love, hope, and faith. Thanking God for something brings us to an awareness of our love for God and for the things for which we are grateful; finding the gifts for which we are grateful helps us see bright spots of hope in any situation; and acknowledging the good things God has provided for us gives us faith in God’s goodness and love for us. Love, hope, and faith give us a good foundation for doing the work God calls us to do, including the essential and enormous work of restoring a sustainable environment on our planet.
It’s difficult to look at the harm we have done to the earth and at the big effort and change in priorities it will take for the course of things like climate change and plastic pollution of the oceans to be changed for the better. Giving ourselves time to notice and appreciate the wonders of God’s creation is a good antidote to the temptation of despair; gratitude is as essential a piece of this work as is the willingness to look at the problems we face.
Happy Thanksgiving! Many daily returns of the spirit of the day!