Gratitude and Grace

RockwellThanksgivingby Glenn Fairman   11/22/16
Originally broadcast in 2013  •  As another Thanksgiving has come full circle and we again come face to face with a bounty of foods set before us that in most ages would have been relegated to princes and rajahs, let us not forget that this day flows naturally from the wellspring of Gratitude and Grace – of humility and realization that we as a race are not sufficient – that we have never been islands unto ourselves. And we should further acknowledge that although a great remnant of Americans have not bowed their heads to the false Spirit of the Collective, there still exists a legion of invisible shoulders that we now stand upon for which we are compelled, by what is best within us, to give humble thanks.

Indeed, we are the blessed heirs of hard won liberties and material blessings that our fathers vaguely but dutifully dreamed over while toiling and praying in yeomanly fashion that their children might be better people, living equally better lives. Yet nevertheless, as we now stand astride our precious but dwindling legacies of plenty, a vague dissatisfaction lurking in the well of our souls whispers to us that this is not enough. And for the Children of God, who were fashioned for the purpose of basking in the star-like glory of his countenance, any blessing divorced from an obligation to its vital source could never have been enough.

Grateful people are by definition joyous people while grumblers and murmurers occupy the bottom rung of those we would join in friendship. 

While the relentless forces of America’s secular vanguard have done their best to distill Thanksgiving into a voluptuary’s bacchanal, just as Easter and Christmas have been repackaged into mere pagan seasonal rites of Spring and Winter Solstice, Thanksgiving has most successfully resisted its desacrilization. But since Thanksgiving implies the giving of thanks, we are faced with the quandary of who should be the object of our esteem. Should it be: the Deity, the family, Leviathan, or should we draw worship to ourselves or to the mammon proceeding from our labors? It is perhaps due to the powerful emotive force of idealized families banded together – their heads bowed in pious supplication, that Thanksgiving plucks at our heartstrings. And in the waves of nostalgia that accompany the primal theme of “coming home,” and being accepted into the fold, evoking at least the ritualistic trappings of unity, Thanksgiving’s undercurrents inform us, in a visceral sense, that at least for this one day – we are not alone.

It seems that amongst the catalogue of moral virtues, Gratitude is a most noble and satisfying one to possess. And though its roots are not strictly American, its spirit flows abundantly from the epic of our founding – starting with Plymouth Rock. In fact, so many of our holidays and holy days involve a venerable appreciation and indebtedness that are rooted in civic and moral obligation. Furthermore, even if we are not deeply moved by the sacrifices borne by others on our behalf, there still remains within us that nagging sting of conscience informing us that a sterile ingratitude speaks harshly to the quality of our humanity. Indeed, gratitude should be the default condition of the soul and its cultivation the very beginning of wisdom. Grateful people are by definition joyous people while grumblers and murmurers occupy the bottom rung of those we would join in friendship. Who can forget Shakespeare’s Lear when he concedes: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child?”

The thankful heart shifts the gravity of its thoughts from me to thee. In ceasing to behold oneself as the prime mover of deed and destiny, the outstretched heart can encompass both the blessings and travails of everyman. When I began to understand this, so late in life, it was as if someone had switched on a light. Ceasing to grouse and covet for that which, in my miserable state, I believed that I was entitled to, brought forth in me a new found peace and allowed me to participate, however feebly at first, in lightening the loads of others. But in order to commence this change of heart, it was first necessary to pry myself off the throne. And I have been prying myself off, with varying degrees of success, ever since.

And so friends, I am afraid that however loudly some might howl, we cannot dispense with that nasty bit about religion on a day that veritably cries out to the rooftops that we should offer our gratitude for His graciousness – as well as to the sacrificial benevolence of our brethren offered in His name. After all, the secret is that it is not God that is transformed by our accolades, but ourselves. Moreover, we should not be content with just a tight-lipped admission that somewhere along the road to today we were offered a celestial leg up by an equally begrudging and distant Watchmaker God. Instead, we should offer the affirmation of an emphatic “Yes” to the Common Grace that Providence generously bestows on both believer and agnostic for the manifold bounties that are ours for the taking. How true it is that the genuine prayer of Thanksgiving causes the scales to fall away from our eyes – allowing us the honor of emerging as new creatures with renewed vision.

Without a substantial ardor of thankfulness to an Entity higher than ourselves, Thanksgiving becomes just another species of Post Modern idolatry – dooming us to focus on the adulation of that which has been wrought from our own hands. A full draught of drink and meat cannot but grow sour in men that anxiously long for the relationships they were made for, but whose eyes have instead remained affixed to their lower chambers of pleasure and appetite. Until we motion our eyes and lips heavenward in sincere supplication for the longing that approximates our true estate, we shall forever remain mired in that dull ache of flesh and unrequited desire – forever filling ourselves, yet forever empty. 

How true it is that the genuine prayer of Thanksgiving causes the scales to fall away from our eyes – allowing us the honor of emerging as new creatures with renewed vision.

The paradox of Thanksgiving, and of human life in general, is that the more we are fixated on the goal of filling that abyss of appetite in all its forms, the more we discount or overlook the riches that truly satisfy—the treasures of family, faith, and the quiet hearth. Similarly, how odd that the more we are beset with the pains and tribulations that vex us and have the capacity to wilt our faith and resolve, the greater our understanding is of the value of that which we stand to lose. The inevitability of suffering that mars every life has the capacity to refine in poverty what plenty could not. Clearly, God has thus designed us; and though this mystery seems counter to the narrative of this world, its wisdom rings louder and clearer than any church bell – once we have attended to, in earnest, this profound meditation. In the end we shall offer Thanksgiving even for the ignobility of our sufferings, having seen through a glass clearly from the summit of our perfection.

For those of you who are beset with this unsure angst of ingratitude, so inconsistent with the august spirit of this holiday, perhaps things are not as they should be. Whether you believe in Him or not, know that there is room at that Thanksgiving table that proceeds on seemingly forever: and the admission therein is only the sacrifice of your pain and pride—trading beauty for ashes is the unspoken promise that permeates Thanksgiving Day. Understanding this, in an American age that is growing increasingly hollow in its tentative abundance, will go far in bringing us full circle to the default state of unwavering joy prepared for us since before the beginning of days–gifted to man in a Life that bridged the span between a wooden manger and rough hewn cross. Happy Thanksgiving friends – We have so much to give thanks for.


Glenn Fairman returns from the wilderness and writes from Highland, Ca.
About Author  Author Archive  Email • (1073 views)

Glenn Fairman

About Glenn Fairman

retired
This entry was posted in Essays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Gratitude and Grace

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Without a substantial ardor of thankfulness to an Entity higher than ourselves, Thanksgiving becomes just another species of Post Modern idolatry – dooming us to focus on the adulation of that which has been wrought from our own hands. A full draught of drink and meat cannot but grow sour in men that anxiously long for the relationships they were made for, but whose eyes have instead remained affixed to their lower chambers of pleasure and appetite.

    Ditto. Eloquently stated.

    Similarly, how odd that the more we are beset with the pains and tribulations that vex us and have the capacity to wilt our faith and resolve, the greater our understanding is of the value of that which we stand to lose. The inevitability of suffering that mars every life has the capacity to refine in poverty what plenty could not.

    I would that the Pope had one quarter the wisdom.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    It may not specifically mention gratitude, but Lee Greenwood’s lyrics say it well: “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me.” The second part is especially moving, of course.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I’ve been reminded very well this year about the need to have something more than yourself. This house is too big (and bug-ridden) for us, and Elizabeth was hit harder. At one point I suggested she call her church to see if there was something she could for them at home, which would give her more of a will to keep on living.

    In the end it didn’t happen, and currently she’s at a nursing home in Lexington and will never return here, though we hope to get back together in a few weeks, perhaps initially at an extended-stay hotel (there are several in Louisville) until we can find a suitable apartment to move into. Neither of us is now capable of living completely on our own, and I think taking care of each other will do a lot to keep us going. Certainly I find myself now, as Elizabeth did then, frequently wishing not to wake up the next day.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Good thoughts and prayers to Elizabeth and yourself, Timothy. It is difficult to remain grateful when the wolves are at the door and pain is one’s bitter drink of the moment. In such times we might do as sainted Christians have often done. You give over your pain for a purpose that none of us can be fully aware of. You make an offering of the pain.

      Short of that, there’s nothing like the tonic of music, at least for me. This is also a bona fide, fully authorized, and legitimate substitute. I’m not sure if picturing her naked is also allowed. But, oh well. The deed is done.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        “I have my books, and my poetry to protect me” — “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. In my case it’s music rather than poetry. Among other things, I have the soundtrack for Bye, Bye, Birdie and the I Know a Place CD. But I will also note the final refrain on “Downtown”: “And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you,/Someone who is just like you and needs a little hand to/Guide them along.”

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          That’s a great lyrics from “Downtown.” I didn’t mean to gratuitously sexualize Dame Clark. But when these hits were the talk of the day (around 1964 for that one video), I was too young to appreciate anything but the music. And with an older “generation utopia” brother and sister from the Baby Boom era, I was exposed to a lot of great music, and loved most of it. Still do.

          But what a wonderful mix of artistry and good looks. I can now appreciate all external attributes. It’s quite different these days in which lots of low-talent hacks with great bodies can twerk and synthesized-voice their way to superstardom. Let’s give thanks to these wonderfully talented stars of rare artistic substance.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            The satirical show That Was the Week That Was once did a sort of parody of “Downtown” — they ran the actual song while showing the seamier side of urban life. It was funny, of course — but it also caused me to notice the lyrics, and realize that I rather liked the song.

    • Glenn Fairman says:

      When I wrote this several years ago, I never thought that suffering would apply to me or my loved ones. Cancer marker numbers have skyrocketed over the last month and the Dr. had a grim look of resignation in his face today. We are beginning to speak of funerals openly and this being our last Holiday season together. Against such a backdrop, words ring hollow and the mind tells itself to please shut the hell up.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        When Elizabeth’s sister and brother-in-law picked her up over a month ago (she had decided she could no longer endure the house), they ended up taking her to an ER in their home town. It turned out that she had developed severe anemia, and was on the verge of death. She’s a lot better now, fortunately. While her brother-in-law has developed a very negative attitude toward me, I am thankful that they saved her life.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I find expressions of sympathy to be trite, although they’re surely welcome. I think they’re trite because, for instance, what words can one give to illuminate a sunset that is illuminated by things far greater than clever, even if sincere, rhetoric?

        There are those days when I am weary and long for the extended rest. And for those for whom it may be coming presently, and who believe that death is not the end but a glorious beginning, I’m ambivalent regarding sympathy. Maybe envy is in order.

        But this life is what we know and it’s hard to be in it and it is hard to leave it. Our duty is not enduring for the sake of enduring. I think our duty is to live with at least a quarter of the sense of the value of what it is to live at all. Any measure higher, although welcome, is probably unreasonable given our many pains and uncertainties. But one does trade up a level or two with dollops of hope, smidgens of gratitude, and pinches of forgiveness.

      • Lucia says:

        Glen and Timothy, I’m so sorry that you face such a difficult ordeal. May God comfort you and those who love you. May the Word strengthen you and give you peace.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        It is one of life’s great heartbreaks that our suffering cannot truly be shared. We may be surrounded by well-wishers and loved ones, but each of us has his unique burden, which cannot be passed off to others.

        Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that in this we share something with the rest of humanity.

  4. pst4usa says:

    Very well said Glenn; thank you for this post, it is good to be reminded of who we should be thanking for all we have and what we all have access to, Him.

  5. Timothy Lane says:

    I thought I would give my own list of things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.

    I’m thankful to be alive, and also to be thankful that I’m alive (I prospect I face many days with regret rather than gratitude).

    However unmanageable and nearly intolerable this house has become as my mobility collapses, I’m thankful to have the shelter. No need to sleep on a sewer grate (and never mind whether I could get up from one these days). The facilities work well.

    My Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t quite as varied as Elizabeth would have arranged, and I missed such items as stuffing, gravy, and the oyster casserole she made each year. But I had a good, large meal with 5 different items (a turkey drumstick, cranberry sauce, yams, Italian bread with butter, and a salad). Plus a large slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, which I just finished. And I made it all myself (with advice from Elizabeth, of course), though none of it from scratch.

    However poor my health and however limited my mobility, I’m thankful that I can nevertheless get around. Many people can’t (I’ve seen them when visiting a friend at his nursing home).

    I’ve lived alone now for over a month, and it’s likely to be another before that can change. But, as someone might have said, I have a phone and a laptop and that puts me in touch with a lot of friends and family. That includes the nice people at this website, and I want to thank you for helping provide the human contact that keeps me feeling more depressed than I’m inclined to anyway. (And by the way, does anyone know why we have heard from Deana in quite a while? I hope nothing’s wrong.) I’m very thankful for that contact (including my nearly-daily calls with Elizabeth).

    Since I fell going up the front steps November 4 (bringing the recycling bin and garbage can in from the curb), I’ve only stepped out of my house once (a week ago when I again brought them in, and also picked up a prescription)., and did NOT come back up the front steps. I’m thankful that I have friends who have taken care of the outside errands that would otherwise have been such a drain on me.

    However little I care for Donald Trump, I’m thankful that Hillary Clinton lost, and her party fared even worse (and is still looking for excuses rather than facing up to why they lost). And I’m thankful that I’m not one of those snowflakes still miserable over 2 weeks later (after the great disappointment of the 2012 election, I recovered in a day or so).

    I’m thankful to be an American, where I can write what I please about Barack Screwtape Obama and not fear the Gestapo in the middle of the night. And I’m thankful for those who made that possible over the past 240 years, many of whom gave “the last full measure of devotion” — including my first cousin five times removed, and my father.

    At age 65 (which I turn on December 12), I live entirely on Social Security, and will soon be on Medicare (which, thanks to the Part B premiums, is definitely not free — even with my health, I suspect it will cost me more than I gain many years). So I want to thank all those who pay taxes (here and elsewhere) for helping make that possible. A lot of government dependents would never think of who really provides that money.

    And, however unpleasant my life currently is all too often, I’m thankful that I have good reason (at present) to hope it will improve fairly soon.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      A pretty good “thank you” list Tim. Very early on, I decided that one of the guiding thoughts of my life would be, “No matter how bad things are, they could always be worse, so be thankful for what you have.” Maybe this does not lead to effusive thanks, but it does keep things on an even keel which makes it easier to carry on.

      Glad you have some local friends who are able and willing to help.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        As a matter of fact, my normal garbage/recycling pick-up date is Thursday, which naturally got moved to Friday this week. So they came around about 2 p.m. (I was talking to Elizabeth, but we were pretty much done) to take the garbage and bin out. (I had planned to go up and start the turkey drumstick about then anyway, so this proved to be very good timing.)

      • Rosalys says:

        “Glad you have some local friends who are able and willing to help.”

        My grandmother, who lived to be eight months shy of one hundred, lived in her house until she was ninety-seven. A great part of why she was able to do so, was because so many of her neighbors were so kind and helping. We couldn’t even get her to agree to let us come get her to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with us. Her neighbors always brought over a big plate of holiday food for her. They took out her trash and shoveled her driveway. These are chores that we would have been happy to do for her, but for the fact that she lived two hours away! Eventually, after a fall, she agreed to come on down, and move in with my parents.

    • Rosalys says:

      “So I want to thank all those who pay taxes…”

      You’re welcome, Timothy. Even though I may prefer a different system, it’s nice to see that at least some of my tax money is going to a place I approve. It’s also wonderful to hear someone is appreciative!

      “…and a laptop and that puts me in touch with a lot of friends and family. That includes the nice people at this website…”

      I don’t really know any of you here. I doubt I will ever meet any of you in person. And yet I almost feel a kind of friendship. God bless you all!

      • Timothy Lane says:

        And God bless you as well. Early in Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden throws a party and “party hound” Francisco D’Anconia thanks him for providing shelter for an evening. Rearden thinks it’s unnecessary — but D’Anconia points out that of all those he’s keeping out of the wild that evening, he was the only one who would thank him. Even if it’s all in the past, those who produce know where the money comes from for those who don’t (or no longer do).

  6. Glenn Fairman says:

    Gratitude is the first virtue that falls in a Socialist system, as a degenerate population learns to carry in its heart the grudging and fallacious expectation that manna will await them with the morning dew.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That’s the advantage of a memory — we all know it isn’t. I just had a nice encounter with a canvasser from a local Korean Baptist church. They had sent a notice offering to rake leaves this weekend, but I had been unable to get through t them. But because they also canvassed the neighborhood, and he noticed (from a different house) when I finally got to the door, it’ll get done anyway. I certainly can’t do it.

  7. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Years back, someone gave me a book titled, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” The only thing I recall from the book is the line, “Gratitude is the shortest lived emotion.” The author was spot on.

    Gratitude is an emotion of thankfulness for a kindness rendered. In many cases this kindness is rendered to us because we are in need of something; money, physical assistance, emotional support, etc. i.e. because we are not able to rely on ourselves.

    The longer one recalls and remains grateful for such a kindness the longer one is reminded of one’s shortcoming. By forgetting our gratitude/obligation to another, we we can forget our failings.

    I believe this is one reason why many rebel against Christianity. They hate the idea of God’s grace, i.e. the fact that we are so flawed that we need help to achieve salvation. Given the manifold and manifest shortcomings of mankind, I don’t understand why they would be surprised at the thought.

    • Glenn Fairman says:

      Indeed. The unregenerate rebel heart would rather burn in the outer darkness than come into the light, admit its fatal error, and be healed. This primordial affliction of pride alights on both angel and human. It is the kernel of original sin. All who take refuge therein suffer its madness – its sickness unto death.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      As Aldonza says in the inner play in Man of La Mancha, “What’s in my heart will get me halfway to Hell.” I KNOW I need God’s grace to end up anywhere else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *