We may think of gratitude … as an appreciation of the joy that uniquely comes from what is virtuous and the recognition of “what God has done or is doing.” Now we have a hermeneutic for our experience, grounded in the God-given “‘eucharistic’ function of man,” to borrow from Fr. Alexander Schmemann. It is not enough to simply appreciate what is given. One must submit what is given to the standard of the Good, be thankful for it to the extent that it measures up, and be critical of it to the extent that it does not. The goal is ultimately transformative: In thanksgiving we offer up to God the good things he has given to us and receive them back transfigured by his grace.
In the ancient Church, one of the common charges early Christians brought against Gnostics, who denied that the God they worshiped was the Creator of the world, was that they were being ungrateful. Whoever our Creator is, they reasoned, we owe him a great deal of gratitude. Thus, in this way they recommended a eucharistic worldview.
What I explore at Ethika Politika is a more nuanced understanding of what thankfulness really is. It is rooted in virtue, I argue, and thus requires an appreciation not of all that is past, but of all that is good, past, present, or future. In the same way, we are given resources to steward, but how do we determine what has been endowed to us for our good and the good of others, and what does not truly deserve our appreciation in the first place?
This requires, however, a great amount of insight into what, in fact, the Good truly is. The development of such moral perception requires the ascetic practices that purge away our (bad) passions and turn our minds “toward divine gifts,” “from corporeal objects” to “possession of heavenly things.” The realization of our own inadequacy in this regard—for “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23)—ought to be a great source of humility.
If we wish to be thankful for what we have been given — and surely this, as much as anything else, is a matter of good stewardship — then we need to take the time to practice those spiritual disciplines that help us cultivate true discernment and, ultimately, humility.
Read my full article at Ethika Politika here.