This week I am doing a daily series on gratitude, since this virtue plays a vital role in our understanding of Slow Church, and since of course, our readers in the U.S. will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday later this week…
I’ll admit, I’m a little wary of people who are effervescently thankful for things in their lives — especially on Facebook at this time of year. Well, OK, I am pretty suspicious of most people who are effervescent about anything. In a blog post this morning, my friend Ragan Sutterfield got it right, I think, that we need confession before giving thanks:
So before Thanksgiving, we would do well to prepare in these days before not only by making lists of what we are thankful for, but also in confessing all of the ways in which we have manufactured our own blessings in impatience and greed, in exploitation and violence.
We should always be thankful for the people in our lives: friends, neighbors, sisters and brothers in Christ, even our enemies, but our gratitude for things should always be qualified. We should be required when giving thanks for a thing, to say WHY we are thankful for it (an unenforceable law, I know). Doing so, would cause us to reflect on and evaluate the origins of our gratitude. If as Ragan suggests, confession precedes thanksgiving, and if we articulate why we are thankful for particular things (not people) in our lives, I think we will be well on our way toward more authentic gratitude.
In her excellent new book Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us (which, by the way, is a the top of the above list of books on cultivating gratitude), Christine Pohl devotes an entire chapter to complications in gratitude. In addition to issues of justice, like those that Ragan names, Pohl points out that gratitude cannot be coerced (which makes me wonder about the forms of coercion in the shared prayers and songs of our churches). She also identifies the complications of “gifts we don’t want or aren’t sure how to use.” She says: “Acceptance or rejection of gifts requires discernment on the part of leaders and communities. A designated gift can reshape a particular ministry and require allocations of time and resources that don’t fit the the community’s capacity or purpose.” Similarly, she also examines the gifts that come to us in broken people and how we discern whether we are able to absorb the brokenness and utilize that person’s gifts. All of us, of course, are broken, but the question that Pohl is exploring is those situations when the brokenness of a particular person might pose a substantial threat to the common good of a community.
As we give thanks — not only in this holiday season, but throughout the year — may we be cautious and mindful of the complications of gratitude.