One of my favorite prayers in the Prayer Book is one from the Order for Compline:
O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, p. 134
It is a reminder that the world in which we live, the lives we live – all that we are and all that we have – is all the sheer gift of God. It is not something we can seize or hold. We can only receive and give thanks. This receiving is not passive but rather an active attentiveness to each moment as the irreplaceable, intimate gift of God. We thank God who wonderfully created us and still more wonderfully redeems us. It is no accident that the central practice of the Church is the Eucharist the root meaning of which is thanksgiving.
The prayer from Compline is also a reminder that we are dependant on each other’s toil. The notion of an autonomous individual, rugged or otherwise, is a false one. It is fundamentally absurd. We are born into, and dependent upon from start to finish, a web of relationships. We always and only live at the hand of others. Part of the discipline of active, attentive gratitude is giving thanks for everyone else. Margaret Visser writes, “Gratitude is always a matter of paying attention, of deliberately beholding and appreciating the other.”
Thanksgiving is a good reminder to be paying attention and deliberately beholding and appreciating others as we acknowledge our dependence. So, this Thanksgiving, thank God for his unfailing sustaining providence. And thank all those other folk on whose toil your life depends. Thank family and friends. But also thank everyone who had a hand in making your Thanksgiving feast possible: those who planted, those who harvested, those who processed and packed, those who drove the trucks and those who loaded and unloaded the trucks, those who stocked the shelves and those who checked out the groceries. Thank the power company electrician who makes sure the power gets to your home – sometimes in inclement weather. And thank sister turkey and brother pig for the sacrifice of their lives for your nourishment. And thank all who participate in one way or another in the web of mutual dependency.
Of course, the third Thursday of November is but a particular, public reminder of our dependence on God and one another. May we learn the discipline of active attentive gratitude day in and day out. Recipe diem.