In October and November, I wrote about intercession and petition, teaching us our utter dependence on God. Now, ‘tis the season to go deeper into gratitude, at the heart of the Christian life, indeed of all life.
As shown by hundreds of scientific studies, practising gratitude increases happiness, reduces the risk of depression, increases resilience, and improves relationships. Gratitude reminds us of abundance and leads to an attitude of contentment, interdependence, and respect for Creation and Creator.
Our consumer society needs emptiness, creating unmet desires in order to grow. So contentment, recognising abundance instead of scarcity, is radical. Gratitude leads us to realise that contentment comes through gift not a purchase.
Further, gratitude generates a cycle of reciprocity: receiving thanks makes the giver more inclined to give more, and leads to further abundance. Do we thank and encourage our politicians when they make positive changes? Or do we appreciate those who have been campaigning on our behalf, for eg equal rights or a liveable planet, and celebrate victories that help us maintain hope? I hope that I never take for granted the present relative peace in the UK.
Nor must I take my faith and relationship with God for granted, but practise gratitude continually. God desires to lavish us with inexhaustible gifts, and gratitude expands my limited capacity to receive God’s generosity. In response let us give thanks at all times and for everything (Eph 5.20).
At the beginning of the day, whenever they gather before anything else is done, the native American Haudenosaunee people offer the Thanksgiving Address to the land, setting gratitude as the highest priority. This slowing down, to receive, sanctify the gift, and increase attentiveness to the giver, also lies behind saying grace before meals and many other rituals.
So during the day, slowing down a little heightens my awareness of God’s simple giftings. Then I can give thanks in the moment.
At the end of the day, remembering a few things for which I am grateful might show it in a different light. Noting these down helps me renew my gratitude later. And lastly, looking back over my life shows me how God’s grace has been working in ways great and small.
In all, “Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9.15)
This is one of a series of articles appearing in Exeter Cathedral’s monthly news, complementing the material I contributed to the “Explore Prayer” section of the Cathedral website. I hope you find them helpful.