Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Before the joys and trials of family get-togethers, the bacchanalian consumption of endless pounds of poultry, and the weariness of holiday travel tempered only by the thrill of a TSA patdown, it is perhaps fitting to pause and reflect a moment on the reason for the season we celebrate this week: Thanksgiving.

Like most of our holidays, Thanksgiving has become commercialized, sterilized, and neutered, long ago detached from its original significance, its spiritual roots withered and wizened, lost in the ever-longer lead-in to the crass commercialism of Christmas. To be sure, we nod in its direction, with cursory platitudes of gratitude for material blessings and bountiful food. Yet our lives betray the truth behind the truisms: we are a most unhappy, ungrateful, ungracious, and resentful lot. We who reside amidst the greatest wealth ever accumulated, suffer from an acquisitive sickness, a deep and abiding unhappiness which even greater and ever more cannot heal. We live in expectation more than acceptance, revenge rather than reconciliation, greed not gratitude. For all we have, we have not peace, and thanksgiving is the farthest thing from our minds and hearts.

So what then of gratitude, of true thanksgiving? It is not the cheap grace of the smug acknowledgment of all we possess, lest we be seen by others as a selfish boor. Nor is it some warm emotion poured forth like spirits from a crystal decanter, transparently empty after its contents are spilt. It is indeed poorly expressed by words alone, which cost far too little to repay our debts.

It is, rather, a proper sense of perspective, grounded in a larger vision of purpose. It recognizes, first and foremost, that we are limited and flawed, not the pinnacle of evolution but the pride — and the problem — of creation. We are magnificently made but fatally flawed; we aspire to the stars but stumble in the mud. What we have is not what we have earned, but we we have been given — and far too often used not for glory but for gain.

Thanksgiving tells us that we have a higher purpose, a calling which draws us toward the divine, in order that His highest purposes are fully served. It tells us we are hopelessly handicapped in our pursuit of this noble calling, waylaid in wanton selfishness and frivolous foolishness, distracted from our goal by baubles and the banal. Indeed there is little hope of restoring our vision but by grace, by the gracious hand of God to guide, empower, and correct us. It is in this extraordinary reality that true gratitude is found, that we who have hated the good have, in spite of ourselves, been called back home, in forgiveness and with vision restored, to be made useful and purposeful again, to be made new.

This grace empowers gratitude, for it opens all things, both good and bad, to the possibility of redemption. For the good we may be grateful, not merely that it blesses us, but that it enables and empowers us to serve and give to others. Our trials and liabilities, too, become tools by which we may reassess and redirect our lives, growing in empathy for the suffering of others, and in trust in the inscrutable goodness and wisdom of God, who uses evil for good. Our thanksgiving is a celebration of freedom — the freedom to transform all things, whether good or evil, to the higher purposes of God.

A cynical and empty culture knows nothing of this miracle of grace, and thus has no gratitude, no graciousness, no humility or hope. We are called, in this season of Thanksgiving, to be a light shining in a dark and empty world, which by disowning transcendence has destroyed its hope.

Let us, then, be truly grateful this Thanksgiving, for the grace of redemption, the hope of transformation, and the mercy shown to us through Him who is most gracious.

Have a most blessed and fruitful Thanksgiving.