It’s the day after Thanksgiving – I was eating yesterday with family in S.C. and far away from computers. I’m still eating today but found a little time and computer connection in order to make a short post and catch up on mail.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann taught that one way of understanding the sin in the Garden of Eden, was that we ate the only food there that had not been given to us as food – and thus the only thing for which we could not give thanks. It was our failure to be “eucharistic” beings that became characteristic of our sin.
The more years I’ve meditated on this, the more convinced I am of its truth and on far more than a moral level. Our failure to give God thanks is not a mere “moral” failure. It is a failure within the very depths of our being.
My wife and I were both brought up on “bread and butter notes,” the polite notes of thanks Southerners send to one another for almost everything (they may do this elsewhere, but I only know the South). Thus, my children keep lists of what they receive for Christmas as well as what they want – so that they will be able to write the notes required by the act of receiving. It’s a good habit.
But on some level, this is a moral act, a doing of what we should do. You write bread and butter notes because you’re supposed to.
But giving thanks to God is more than a spiritual “bread and butter note,” thanking Him for what we have received. It is, finally, a healing of the oldest wound in humanity. We who came from nothing, and thus received all that we have, give thanks as an act of authentic existence. Anything other than thanks is to act as if we created ourselves, as if there were no God and we were not His creatures.
There are many events, many occurences in our lives that in and of themselves do not elicit thanks. The tragedies of our existence usually elicit something quite opposite of thanksgiving. And yet to let such tragedies define our existence, much less our relationship to God, is to refuse finally to accept the gift of our existence as a gift. There are Psalms of complaint, and we are certainly not forbidden to pray them. And yet at a core far deeper, we must give thanks. I bless the God Who gives me Life because I know that all things are indeed “working together for good” (Roman 8:28), not because I understand, but because He is God and wills only good for me.
Some years back, as my wife and I were praying for a job for me (so that I could feed my family as we converted to Orthodoxy), she announced one night, “I believe that God is going to answer our prayer very soon” (we had been praying for about two years at that point). “We should begin to offer prayers of thanksgiving tonight.” I didn’t argue with her, but I did ask her why she thought we should do that.
“When God answers our prayer, we will be grateful. Anybody can offer thanks when they’re grateful. We need to start now.”
Her wisdom was astounding to me then, and continues to astound me. Indeed I give thanks for her (and am grateful as well). Thanks be to God forever.