Gratitude is the First Move
“Time out of mind at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year. In observance of this custom, (the fourth Thursday of November is) a day of Public Thanksgiving for the blessings that have been our common lot and have placed our beloved State with the favored regions of earth — for all the creature comforts: the yield of the soil that has fed us and the richer yield from labor of every kind that has sustained our lives — and for all those things, as dear as breath to the body, that quicken man’s faith in his manhood, that nourish and strengthen his spirit to do the great work still before him: for the brotherly word and act; for honor held above price; for steadfast courage and zeal in the long, long search after truth; for liberty and for justice freely granted by each to his fellow and so as freely enjoyed; and for the crowning glory and mercy of peace upon our land; — that we may humbly take heart of these blessings as we gather once again with solemn and festive rites to keep our Harvest Home.”
Governor Wilbur Cross of Connecticut wrote this Proclamation for Thanksgiving 1936. The language may seem outdated but the sentiments are contemporary. The words may seem quaint but yet they quicken the heart and inspire the mind.
Gratitude is the first move. We may not see a lot of it when people think more of entitlement than thanksgiving. When you have much, you can become jaded. In this richest of all nations on earth – with its unconscionably large underclass – where is the gratitude that Wilbur Cross could call up through such a beautiful Proclamation?
Gratitude is the first move, and it begins with thanks for the gift of life. Too often people grouse and whine about their lives. We may be the ones doing the grousing! But do we take time to be thankful for life itself? For the bright stars and the crisp evening air, for the food and shelter we take for granted?
For Orthodox Christians, civil Thanksgiving comes with irony because it is during our Nativity Fast – a time when we minimize our foods and reduce our intake in anticipation of glorious Christmas. Our bishops write:
“Advent is often not the focus of contemporary Christians, who are secularized and smothered in the over-commercialization of the ‘Xmas’ season. The Advent fast is, according to the Church Fathers, a time of mercy, kindness, compassion, self-examination – a time which challenges us to personal renewal in the Light of Christ’s Gospel.”
The fast encourages rather than discourages gratitude, because it helps us focus on the true gifts we receive from God. We push away from gluttony because, like all excess, gluttony makes us lose our way. Excess is mired in self-satisfaction rather than living for others. It’s good that social actions have sprung up around Thanksgiving – charity runs, work at food banks, and the like. These good acts put our energy where it counts, on our society rather than on our stomachs. After all, gratitude is the first move and it’s up to you what the second one is: gluttony or graciousness?
Fr Gabriel Rochelle serves St Anthony of the Desert Orthodox Mission. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fr Gabriel bakes artisan breads at Mountain View Market, Las Cruces, and lives in Mesilla.