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When I realized that I had been assigned Thanksgiving Day for my second blog, I moaned with weariness and dread. I even avoided blogging until, literally, the very last minutes of the day. (Wish I could blame it on the tryptophan.)
While gratitude is a basic posture of the Christian life—an orientation of the spirit that finds itself grounded in the Spirit of God—it has been packaged, marketed, and sold by the American culture and church alike. There are thankfulness journals, programs for constructing a grateful life, books on the psychology of gratitude, and scientific arguments about how gratefulness yields happiness.
So much of this I simply cannot stomach. It all comes across like another kind of self-help, the kind that is based on the late modern (American) dream/myth that we can avoid suffering, loss, and meaninglessness in this life. Or if we do suffer, we can make good out of it . . . no matter what . . . all the time . . . if we just adopt a life-plan that includes daily thanksgiving (without the turkey and stuffing).
To put it simply, much of the way we talk about thankfulness, theorize about gratitude, and act out thanksgiving—(think about those Packers players kneeling down in the end zone in Detroit)—sounds trite, cliché, or boring to me. Even preaching about gratitude can lack spiritual aliveness.
Scripture rescued me from this superficiality. The lectionary texts for this upcoming Sunday actually point toward the inner logic of the gratitude, even though gratitude isn’t mentioned in them. These texts reminded me that gratitude is interlaced with sorrow in this life. Misery and restoration, chaos and transformation: these are the twin experiences of all God’s children. The two cannot be separated from one another in the here-and-now.
And I think that’s why I can’t stomach the commercialization of gratitude. Because it lacks the honest acknowledgement, lament, and despair that are part-and-parcel of human life. We’re not as neatly packaged as we present ourselves, (and this frequently becomes obvious at holiday family gatherings). We suffer; we sin; we live in confusion; we have unfulfilled longings; and we may wonder if God has anything to do with any of it.
When we dare plunge into the doubt and pain of our humanity,
When we believe (in the midst of our unbelief) that God meets us in our greatest vulnerability,
When we choose to embrace our predicament in which celebration and mourning kiss:
Often then, like a mysterious surge of spiritual power (or a still small voice), we find ourselves buoyed up.
Out of death, comes life.
And with that life, comes profound thankfulness for the gift of living.
This thankfulness is not represented in lists of things that make our lives easy, good, and cheerful.
Rather it is expressed in a love for life itself, in passion to live and laugh, and in wonder at the gift (and Giver) of it all.