By H. Boone Porter
Gratitude is a characteristic Christian response as we reflect on the natural world from which we derive food and drink, warmth and shelter, and space in which to live and breathe. It is a response we share with our Jewish and Moslem brothers and sisters who also worship, as we do, the God of Abraham who is the Creator of heaven and earth. But what is gratitude?
It is not easily defined. It is quite possible to recognize that good things exist without being grateful for them. In my mind, I believe that there are countless pieces of ancient statuary beneath the sands of Egypt. I assume that the vast mountain landscapes of Northern India are breath-takingly beautiful. So too must be the coral reefs and their fascinating inhabitants off the coasts of Australia. I do not, however, feel any gratitude for them, I have never seen them, nor have I conversed about them with anyone who has.
On the other hand, it is not difficult to be grateful even for a small thing that is directed toward me or toward those whom I love. I conclude that thankfulness is not simply the recognition that something is good, but rather that it does good, that it is beneficent toward a perceiving person. Gifts and good deeds toward persons convey meaning, they express favor and beneficence, and this often means much more than the actual object or deed.
The warmth of the sun, the air and the water, and the fertility of the soil were all here long before you and me. Yet as we perceive the goodness and beauty of things, they do become gifts to us, they do convey meaning to us, and we give thanks.
Last week we thought of Psalm 8, which is a reflection on the astonishing fact that the God who made everything is personally concerned with you and me. Simply to think of it, this is so amazing as to defy belief. Yet when one sees an autumn full moon rise like a ball of burning gold above the Eastern horizon, one knows that there is indeed meaning, personal meaning, in this vast universe, and one gives thanks.
Gratitude is both a response to reality and a way of discovery. It is something which Americans speak of a good deal at this time of year, but at a deeper level it is something “meet and right” at all times and all places.
The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990. This article was published in our November 20, 1977 issue.