Praise and Thanksgiving, Father, we offer
Regular readers of my columns and listeners to my podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio know of my deep appreciation and love for the traditions of Christianity among the Celtic peoples. I am ever mindful of these my traditions, particularly when Thanksgiving rolls around in November of each year. The reason is not hard to find: the Celtic tradition revolves around gratitude and praise in both song and words. The blending of text and tune is notable in so much of the hymnody of Wales and Ireland in particular, though not limited to those areas by any means.
Here’s my point at the beginning, well stated by the Anglo-Welsh poet and artist David Jones: “if poetry is praise, as prayer is, it can never coexist with any malignant and persistent criticism of the nature of things.” So when you offer gratitude and praise, the intermediate problems that beset you or others must be laid aside. You are called to offer praise beyond yourself – and that means to God. Thanksgiving is cut short unless it finds its goal In God. This is why so many events of “thanksgiving” fall short in our age.
The twentieth-century Welsh poet Waldo Williams said that the purpose of praise is to recreate an unblemished world. As the Christian writer, A. M. Allchin, points out, however, this is a problem in our age. We have become accustomed to belittling things, to the art of the put-down, to endless grousing about this and that and the other thing so that praise and thanksgiving have been lost. For those who grew up in the age of entitlement it may be difficult ever to achieve anything remotely like thanks. If you are entitled to everything you get, then why bother to give thanks for anything? After all you deserved it. It was your right and your privilege, nothing to give thanks for.
One of my favorite poets was Dylan Thomas, a stormy figure who crafted great things with words. He was Welsh but did not know the Welsh language, yet he was able to bring sound and meaning together in ways that seem peculiar to that tongue. In the introduction to a volume of his collected poems, he says “These poems were written for the love of man and in praise of God and I would be a damn fool if they weren’t.”
Allchin makes the point that when you demean other things in your life you really demean yourself, and when you praise others you uplift yourself. The old adage applies, “one is never so tall as when falling on the knees in prayer.” This brings us to the final point.
Praise, thanksgiving and worship go together. The central act of worship in many churches is called Eucharist, a Greek word that means “thanksgiving,” in which the stuff of this world, transformed through manufacture – hand-work – is offered to God in the act of thanks. It is, in the words of the service, “a mercy of peace, a sacrifice of praise.” These words are said at the beginning of the great prayer that sets aside the bread and the wine to be body and blood of Christ for the faithful.
In our cynical age we have lost the obvious meaning of this act, which is that the makings of our hands and the matter of nature, when offered up in thanks, are returned to us as signs of the presence of God in our lives. We lose sight of this, particularly when we degenerate into grousing and moaning based on the idea that the universe owes us something. Perhaps this year we may regain this perspective.