This year I had the unusual pleasure of attending Thanksgiving chapel at three different Episcopal schools. It’s as if God knows when we need to hear the message more than once! Here is the message I heard in three, different, compelling ways with three different communities: as we move away from the holiday of Thanksgiving and into the season marked by giving and receiving, let us take with us the attitude of gratitude. If we could adopt the spirit of thanksgiving all year long, everything – yes, everything – would change.
At our Thanksgiving chapel this year, Bishop Scott Benhase reminded us that “the prayer of thanksgiving precedes all prayers, and the attitude of thanksgiving precedes all other virtues.” An attitude of thanksgiving must come first before all else.
At the Thanksgiving chapel at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, DE, the Headmaster, Tad Roach, described various levels of gratitude. At its simplest level, thanksgiving is expressed in notes and cards, by saying please and thank you as we teach young people to do, and acknowledging an act of kindness from someone. At a higher level of gratitude, we contemplate and consider the blessings of many people in our lives – parents, friends, teachers, mentors, and others who have loved and supported us. At a higher, more developed stage of gratitude, we begin to understand the countless unknown people who have contributed through sacrifice to our well-being, safety, and pursuit of happiness. When we think about the concept of Thanksgiving this way, Roach says, “We see that giving thanks frees us from the temptation to see ourselves as the center of the universe, magically entitled to privileges, rights, resources, and honors…When we give thanks, we begin to peel away what George Eliot calls ‘our moral stupidity’ – our inability to see that our own desires, our own needs, our own anxieties, and our own preoccupations fade away in complete insignificance in light of the human drama going on all around us.”
The highest level of thanksgiving, according to Roach, is expressed when we live out this gratitude in celebration of the human spirit and God’s love for us – when we become the giver of sacrificial support rather than merely the recipient. When we choose to live, speak, and act in ways that are more civil, more humane, and more generous, we become Thanksgiving.
So let us not leave Thanksgiving behind. Let us embrace it and take it with us into this season of Advent. Let’s make an attitude of gratitude our shield and defense against the selfish, profane lopsided priorities that can so easily hijack the season of Christmas and the entry into a new year. If we could adopt the spirit of Thanksgiving all year long, everything – yes, everything – could change.