I will admit that I have not read Diana Butler Bass’ book Grateful: the Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” I am relying completely on the reviews of her book to feed the subject matter at hand—Thanksgiving and gratitude.
I do feel a great sense of responsibility in
this position as your Presbyter for Vision and Mission to find the ways and the places where we in the faith community can connect with the broader culture and the secular society in which we find ourselves nestled. Given that this is the week when most of us—family, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike—will celebrate Thanksgiving I found myself pondering the place that gratitude plays in our lives.
I was struck that this is one theme that generally ties both the religiously faithful and the secular spiritualist together. One does not have to search very far to find a whole array of resources on gratitude. There are gratitude journals, gratitude cards, dozens of Ted Talks on gratitude, and even a whole tome by Butler Bass on the power of being grateful.
What I found interesting, but not surprising, about the reviews of Butler Bass’ book is that, despite being a Christian, it appears that her book is not a reflection on why we should be grateful to God, but is a reflection on the power of gratitude to make us healthier people, more connected to the earth and to each other, more aware of the presence of the one we call God, and able to create a world that is more nurturing and hospitable to all of us.
I am sure that this sounds like a “Big Duh!” But I believe this distinction between focusing on God as the object of our gratitude and focusing on our healthier lives and world as the result of our gratitude is important. It is important because it may provide a natural bridge between those who believe in God and those who just believe in living good, moral, spiritually rich lives.
I found myself wondering, “Do we believe in God as a first step toward becoming grateful people?” Is gratitude the goal or is belief the goal? Is the object of our gratitude more important than the actual practice of gratitude? If gratitude is disconnected from a belief in God does that disqualify the practice of gratitude as a spiritually rich gift?
This Thanksgiving some of us will gather around tables with family and friends and express our gratitude to God for all the blessings of this year. And some of us will gather around tables with family and friends and express their gratitude to life in general and to each other for the blessings of this year.
We in the Christian community believe that blessings come from the very source of our lives—namely the Creator God to which our Biblical narrative points. But our next door neighbors will likely be practicing gratitude as well. Our friends and co-workers and people we have not yet met will also be giving thanks in their own way.
I am grateful for that we have a religious narrative that grounds our gratitude in the One who is the beginning and the end and the reason for our very being.
I am also grateful that others will express their gratitude in way that makes them emotionally and spiritually healthier people, connects us to each other, and creates a world that is more nurturing, forgiving and hospitable to all of us.
There is gratitude for God and then there is just plain gratitude.
I am not sure the two are all that different.
I am grateful for all of you.