Gathering at harvest time to give thanks is a natural reaction among people who face a winter of suffering and death if the harvest has been disappointing. In our era of overabundance, we lack that anxiety and thus the sense of relief, joy and gratitude that our ancestors felt when they were assured they would not starve during the long, frozen months ahead.
Yet we still have a spiritual need to give thanks. In fact, we seem to be wired with that need. According to Peter Steinke, "Hans Selve, a pioneer in charting the effect of emotional states of physical health, notes that the two emotions most detrimental to health are vengeance and bitterness. Conversely, the most nourishing attitude is gratitude."
Sometimes, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I have asked members of congregations to write on yellow pieces of paper the things for which they are thankful, and to place these lists in the offering plate. The answers are predictable: family, health, security—the things for which we are all grateful. But these are generalizations.
A health daily spiritual discipline is to remember the specific things that activate our gratitude, things with which God has graced this day. Thank you, God, for the bed I slept in, the good cup of coffee, the morning greeting from my husband, the way the sun shone and shadowed the scarlet maple leaves, the glimpse of a squirrel's amazing leap from porch rail to tree branch, the ease of driving my car, the sight of a tufted titmouse enjoying a red dogwood berry.
Let us cultivate a habit of daily gratitude for specific gifts. And on Thanksgiving Day, let us recall that this tradition started with a long-ago potluck supper, when people of different languages and tradition gave thanks to God together.
The Rev. Susan De Simone is an interim ministry specialist, and currently president of the board of directors of the Interim Ministry Network. Focus on Faith is a reader-written column to help readers grow in their faith. We welcome contributions from laity and clergy.