Growing up, gathering together to saying “thanks” was a regular part of my family’s daily routine. Every night we sat down to eat dinner together and when we did, we always said grace, joining hands and mumbling the same “God is great, God is good…” blessing before the meal. I’m not sure anybody knew how this particular blessing got chosen, it was just one of those things that seemed to have always been around.
Then one year, in an attempt to add a little variety to saying grace, my mother purchased a small book of new graces from which each night my sister and I could alternate choosing a grace for the family to say together.
It was a nice idea really. It didn’t take long, however, before grace became a dreaded event. Sitting down to eat, my sister and would start in on the argument over whose turn it was to choose the grace, or who had claim over a particular grace that was off limits for the other, the family grace dissolving into somebody being sent to their room.
And if there wasn’t an argument, there was the waiting. The family waited in awkward hungry silence, the food on the plates growing cold, while my sister or I examined every page, choosing a grace with the deliberateness of a miner combing a bucket of rocks for a piece of gold.
One night, undoubtedly seeing years of tantrums and cold dinners stretching out before him, my father declared in exasperation that maybe it would be better if we just skipped the grace all together and got on with it.
My father partly won the battle. We gave up the new book of choosing graces but went back to joining hands saying, “God is great, God is good.” It may not have been new but it seemed important to say thank you…
Theologian Karl Barth was fond of saying that the basic human response to God is gratitude– not fear and trembling, not guilt and dread, but thanksgiving. “What else can we say to what God gives but to stammer praise?” Barth offered.
Offering praise and thanksgiving was at the heart of Israel’s faith and practice. The Psalms are full of songs of praise and thanksgiving for God and God’s creation. They offer recognition that at its heart creation is good– fallen, yes, but fundamentally good– and that its obvious abundance is a direct sign of the goodness of the God who is its Creator. Biblical faith moves from basic awareness of creation’s goodness to thankful stewardship and care of that creation.
As Walter Bruegggmann writes, “Praise is the duty and delight, the ultimate vocation of the human community.”
November is the season of Thanksgiving. Many of us will sit down with family and friends and those around us to share a meal and to give thanks to God for all that we have been given. It’s an intentional time of giving thanks. But Thanksgiving isn’t just a day or a week, it’s a lifetime practice. Writer John Updike believed that when we cultivate and practice the habit of gratitude, the experience of gratitude deepens over the years.
It’s a good time to ask: What am I thankful for today? This week? This year? How might I return thanks to God by doing for someone else, my community, or the environment we live in? Or perhaps an even better way of asking it: “What is saving your life right now, and how might you say ‘thank you?’”