New York Times op-ed: Five Ways to Exercise Your Thankfulness Muscles, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (Christianity Today's 2018 Book of the Year)):
I’m from a family that doesn’t talk much about feelings. We keep it mostly to jokes, sarcasm and sports. When I was growing up, perhaps the biggest perceived sin was being overly earnest and sincere. So all of us kids were shocked when one Thanksgiving, out of nowhere, my parents announced that we’d begin a new ritual. The 20 to 30 of us gathered for the Thanksgiving meal each had to share something we were grateful for.
Over the years, this practice took on the repetitive qualities all liturgies have. Some people expressed gratitude for their health or friends and family. Every year, my great-uncle gave thanks for being a Democrat, and our friend Art strategically positioned himself directly after him in the circle so he could say that he was grateful “for canceling out his vote,” and everyone laughed. My introverted brother-in-law would tease my parents about the horror of the dreaded “circle of thanks.”
But the dreaded circle became part of why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a day that spotlights the need for gratitude. ...
The practice of gratitude is central to nearly every religious and spiritual tradition. And all of us have much to be grateful for. We get the shocking privilege of living on this planet that is uniquely made so that humans can be born, breathe, grow, work, harvest and create. We have bodies that know the pleasures of strawberries, guacamole and buttery popcorn. We hear laughter and breathe in the steam of hot coffee.
The practice of gratitude teaches us, as the theologian Christine D. Pohl put it, “the giftedness of our total existence.” This posture of receptiveness — living as the thankful beneficiary of gifts — is the path of joy because it reminds us that we do not have to be the makers and sustainers of our life. Gratitude is how we embrace beauty without clutching it so tightly that we strangle it.
To receive life as a gift is to acknowledge that we do not — and indeed cannot — hold our world together out of our sheer effort, will and strength. Most of the best things in life can only be received and held with open hands. Like the Israelites receiving manna from God in the desert, we receive what we need as sheer mercy, but it cannot be hoarded, clung to or clutched. Instead, understanding all of our existence as a gift allows us to see that we are limited in our own capacity to control the world and yet we are given what we need, day by day.
“Even in these lowly lovelinesses,” says the title character Thomas Wingfold in George MacDonald’s novel, “there is a something that has its root deeper than your pain; that, all about us, in earth and air, wherever eye or ear can reach, there is a power ever breathing itself forth in signs, now in a daisy, now in a wind waft, a cloud, a sunset, a power that holds constant and sweetest relation with the dark and silent world within us.”
Thanksgiving Day softly asks us to practice thanks for the lowly lovelinesses that make up each of our lives, to take time to notice the constant and sweetest relation offered by the giver of every good gift.
(Hat Tip: Steven Sholk)</>
Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren: