“Gratitude goes beyond the ‘mine’ and the ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” Henri Nouwen
November is a month when we take the time to notice and celebrate gratitude. Although there has been a long history of celebrating a festival of Thanksgiving in the month of November, it wasn’t until 1863, during the middle of the Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national holiday of Thanksgiving. We often mark our thanksgiving by what we have, by the things in our lives for which we are grateful. We might consider ourselves blessed that we have loving family, or plenty of food, clean water, so many things that we know we often take for granted that others around the world often live without. But while it is important to recognize the good things in our lives and to remember our sisters and brothers who might not have those things, is this gratitude of comparison really the heart of blessing or thanksgiving? The bold beginning of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in the midst of the Civil War reminds us that we can live gratitude even in the midst of difficulty, that we can find blessing even in the midst of pain. Perhaps our blessings have less to do with the list of all the things we have and more to do with the very gift of life, the gift of love, and the gift of God’s loving presence with us.
Mary embodies this spirit, when she sings in thanksgiving for her blessings in the midst of dealing with all the fallout of her pregnancy with Jesus: a fiancé who isn’t sure if he can trust her and stay with her, a community judging her harshly as an unwed teenage mother in a time when that was considered unacceptable. All that is true, and yet she sings: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48). Her spirit rejoices and she boldly claims herself as blessed in the midst of it all because she trusts that God is with her and doing something amazing. How can we cultivate this practice of gratitude not through comparisons but through the awareness of God with us this Thanksgiving season? As you reflect back over the year or perhaps over your life, where have you seen and noticed God’s presence with you? May we sing with Mary this Thanksgiving season, aware and grateful for the ways God is present and at work in all of our lives.