Thanksgiving Day in the Chihuahuan Desert meant mild temperatures, clear skies, and a relatively peaceful campground. The day began with getting a glimpse of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by phone calls to Jon’s mom and Cliff’s stepdad. Soon, Chef Cliff served brunch and then began preparing for the feast.
We began the day by counting our blessings, and continued finding reasons to be thankful. And so began our season of introspection: a time ushered in by sincere expressions of gratitude, punctuated by the Christmas giving of gifts.
As is typical at this time of year, a local TV newscast featured a feel-good story about a congregation’s annual welcome of the less fortunate to feast on the riches of their cafeteria tables. Predictably, the camera caught a few seconds of the preacher’s mealtime prayer — the part where he began by saying, “Our God is a mighty God.”
It may not have been the good pastor’s intention to suggest that “your God” isn’t much by comparison, but there is something about the “our God” language that sounds smug, as if to say that God is ours and we’ve got him under our thumb.
Having spent many years studying theology, we can say with some degree of confidence that God cannot and will not be contained and circumscribed, and that all the great theologians acknowledge that their work is limited and incomplete — a failed attempt to describe the indescribable. Hence, the good pastor would be well advised to practice a little humility before the Divine.
In truth, none of us has particularly merited our good fortune. Bad things happen to good people, and for reasons that can only boggle the mind. We had the unearned benefit of being born male, white and American; if we have done better than some, we had a head-start in this world. So if we’re going to express gratitude, it’s not going to be with a God-is-on-our-side type of piety.
Rather, we’re humbly grateful for the families that tolerated the peculiar child they were saddled with, and that those families didn’t warp us too much; for teachers who were encouraging to an unpromising clown and a perpetual misfit who spent most of their school days in mortal fear of being bullied or abandoned; for having the generosity of heart to forgive our shortsightedness and endure our stubbornness; for having jobs we truly love and colleagues we deeply admire, despite the fact that circumstances beyond our control could bring it all to an abrupt and unceremonious end; and, perhaps most of all, for the sheer luck of having survived for so long the sort of stupid and self-destructive actions that have been the undoing of too many others.
Each night, when we sit at table, we lift our glass in awareness that the world has many good things for us to enjoy, gifts that we did not earn of our own merit. For this awareness, we are truly grateful.