In First Thessalonians, the Christian New Testament tells us to give thanks in everything. The Psalmist of the Old Testament bathed in gratitude. The Quran tells us that “any who is grateful does so to the profit of his own soul.” The Buddha taught gratitude as the response to both a kindness and a slight knowing that both contain lessons, the latter often more so than the former. Hindu practice hinges on living from a place of constant gratitude. Countless examples of Native American literature emphasize again and again the practice of gratitude to the Great Spirit.
I could go on, but I believe my point is made. Spirituality, religious identity, holiness — whatever you want to call it — exists in gratitude, regardless of which brand name you prefer. Thankfulness is perhaps the most consistent element in the history of religious thought.
But, what about those pesky atheists? Can they even DO Thanksgiving?
I’ve heard people ask that question before. The assumption underlying this question is that gratitude requires a celestial being as the source of all giving to whom one expresses thanks.
I read a story this past week that came from Hasidic teachings which I will (grossly) paraphrase here.
The student asks the teacher, “Teacher, why did God create atheists?”
The teacher replies, “To teach us compassion. When an atheist sees a person in need and responds to that need, he does so not to win favor with his God, but simply to act compassionately. Whenever you see someone in need, you should become an atheist. Act from a heart of pure compassion and remove any possibility that you are acting out of a selfish need.”
Perhaps also in Thanksgiving we should be atheists. Rather than thanking whatever your version of God might be — man on a cloud or ethereal energy — perhaps consider who actually provided that for which you feel grateful. Thank the farmers who raised the turkey and threshed the wheat and bogged the cranberries. Thank the factory worker who assembled the car you drove over the river and through the woods. Thank the furniture maker who built the couch you can potato on all afternoon watching football. Thank the football players who gave up their holiday for your bash-’em-up pleasure.
Thank the breeder who raised the puppy who “helps” you cook.
Now, it just so happens that I believe there is a Source in the universe (though I lean more toward ethereal energy than man on a cloud). I have no problem thanking that Source for everything in my life. Here’s the thing though — when I thank the farmer and the factory worker and the football player, I feel gratitude to both the conduit and the source at the same time. If I just thank the source, well, I sorta’ skip the middle man.
We are the brokers through which Divine goodness flows from source to other people. We show up as God in each other’s lives all the time. I have to believe that being grateful to each other pleases God, however you see her.
So when the big feast starts, bow your head and give thanks, if that’s your preference. Just don’t forget to kiss the cook as well. And, always, ALWAYS, ask the atheist to say grace. You know, just for shits and giggles.