What is thanksgiving? What does it mean to be thankful? Are you thankful when you feel thankful? Are you thankful when you think you are thankful? What are you thankful for? What is the most authentic form of thankfulness? Is a conscious thankfulness more thankful than an unconscious or unaware thankfulness? Is the most sincere thankfulness an oblivious appropriate action concerning that for which one would be most grateful if one realized an awareness of an unacknowledged blessing?
I have often been part of a group exercise that has us “counting our blessings”, listing all the things we are thankful for. A lot of common items can be expected to make this list - freedom, family, friends, food, love, churches, good weather, good health, and the list goes on. What strikes me is that some of the things we would be most acutely aware of their absence if they were taken from us are missing from this list. I do not believe I have ever heard anyone in such a setting express gratitude for oxygen, and very seldom does plentiful clean water make the list. It seems clear that oxygen would rate high on our wish list if we suddenly found ourselves deprived of it. Does the fact that we seldom express gratitude for it mean that we are ungrateful wretches? Or is appropriate, if unconscious, utilization of oxygen the most genuine form of gratitude? And if it really came down to a choice, would you choose family or oxygen?
There are many ways to be thankful, but I suspect the most authentic form of thankfulness is not necessarily that which verbally expresses gratitude, though such verbal expression is indubitably an appropriate aspect of thankfulness at some point. The most authentic expression of thankfulness is that which makes appropriate use of that for which one is thankful. Aerobic exercise, for example, is likely a more authentic expression of gratitude for oxygen than is sitting on the front porch, smoking and saying “Thank you, God, for the beautiful fresh air”, though that is a more authentic gratitude than is the self-righteous church-goer who passes by the smoker and can only wish the smoker would gain victory.