The Gift of Gratitude
How the church ended up on the wrong foot, putting judgment before grace, I'll never know. Because Jesus's whole point, it seems to me, was that God's realm is marked by love, not retribution, by radical inclusion, not exclusion. Which makes our only fit response that of gratitude, not fear.
The early Christians understood this. Their worship took shape around a communal meal of bread and wine, evoking the Last Supper while recalling Jesus's sacrificial death on the cross. They called it a "thanksgiving," or Eucharist, from the Greek. At the very heart of our faith is gratitude ... for God's extraordinary love.
Being thankful changes everything. For one, if I'm thankful, it's hard to be resentful. I don't have to resent the wealthy person, or the talented person, or the popular person, as if they were somehow given my portion. Because I have God-given portions of my own--unique gifts to be shared with the world, be they flashy or humble. We give freely because we freely received. This makes the world a better place. And not just on a personal level.
Gratitude suggests an economy of abundance rather than one of scarcity. In the early days of COVID-19 shoppers cleared the shelves of toilet paper, as if there would be less supply once people began getting sick. But the only reason for the emptied shelves was fear itself, fear that there wouldn't be enough. An economy of abundance says there is always enough, if our hearts were only large enough to believe it.
Gratitude benefits others. In many ancient cultures the powerful person was the one with the most stuff to share. A blessing for one meant a blessing for all. In the modern world, it's the opposite. The powerful person is the one with the most stuff, period. If you aspire to greatness now, you'd better have big barns. But when it's all gift, you don't really own that stuff to begin with.
Gratitude creates community. Regular commerce, the buying and selling of things, requires nothing but the transfer of capital. You don't even have to look the vendor in the eye. Here's my credit card, now give me my salami. But gift exchanges, even if they come with strings attached (as most gifts do), require us to relate to one another. Thank you for your kindness. May I do the same for you one day. Or better yet, for someone else, paying it forward.
Christianity has gifted the world with the notion of an extravagantly generous Creator who gives self-sacrificially for the benefit of all. It inspires our gratitude, which changes everything.
Next week: Gravity