Christmas is often seen as a time to stop, reflect and reorient ourselves from a life centered towards ourselves to a life centered on God and others. A breaking through of our routine. Liturgically speaking, it is the start of the Christian calendar, the beginning of that long road to being shaped towards this end.
But what if we saw Thanksgiving as the grounds on which we anticipate this “breaking through.”
THE GREATEST OF VIRTUES
Faith, hope, and love are often seen, in the Christian view, as the greatest of virtues. They are what remain when all else is stripped away.
I looked up a couple definitions of virtue:
1. “Attitudes,and good habits that govern one’s actions, passions, and conduct according to reason; and are acquired by human effort.”
2. “A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness.”
Now consider if we were to see these virtues as “resources” that we have instead of virtues we need to acquire? This is something I have been reflecting on coming out of a recent Sunday Service. Would this change the way we function as virtuous (faithful, hopeful, loving) people?
THE VIRTUE OF THANKFULNESS
To answer this question, and accepting thankfulness as a virtue, I looked at the virtue of thankfulness or gratitude.
The undercurrent for every definition of “thankfulness” that I could find is that it is both a “feeling” and an “expression” that results from an awareness of what we have been given. In purely philosophical terms, thankfulness is a virtue that stems from being a beneficiary of something, whereas other virtues are purely about an attitude or action that we do and exhibit. In thankfulness we find a duality that pushes it beyond the typical definition of virtuous living.
From a Christian perspective, Thomas Aquinas saw thankfulness as a unique virtue because he considered it purely a matter of justice. It is not as much about what we do, as much as it is about what is being done to us. To be be thankful is to reposition ourselves as benefactors, and thus reorient (and elevate) the way we see our circumstance, others and our world. It humbles us down so that we can be lifted up. It increases and changes our perspective towards something bigger than ourselves.
In this way, thankfulness could be the greatest resource that we have, because it is through thankfulness that we can see all virtues as a resource rather than an acquisition. Through an attitude and expression of thankfulness we find the great wealth that we have been given as Children of God, and this wealth is then freed up for the sake of the world.
THE TRUE FREEDOM NARRATIVE
It is a common practice to attach Thanksgiving to the story of our Country. The reason this is a problematic practice is because it clouds this relationship between virtue and resource. Reforming that against a narrative that brings in the whole of the children of God (which in proper perspective breaks down nationalistic, political and religious boundaries) allows us to recenter thanksgiving as a resource that equips us for virtuous living. In the Christian story, we see this as faith, hope, and love given without condition. Therefore a true Christian expression of thankfulness recognizes these things as ours to give away equally without condition. This is the justice that Aquinas speaks towards.
Thankfulness is the attitude that frees us to be faithful, hopeful and loving people, even when we feel we are less than these virtues ourselves. In Christ, all of these virtues stand bigger and taller than our effort and acquisition, and that is something to be truly thankful for.
“To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus.
For my life is wholly bound to him.
Oh how strange and divine, I can sing “all is mine.”
Yet not I, but through Christ in me.”
– YET NOT I BUT THROUGH CHRIST IN ME (CITYALIGHT)