THE DEEPEST KIND OF GRATITUDE
The deepest form of gratitude comes in the form of worshiping a benevolent God from whom come the traits that distinguish us as human beings.
Writing about gratitude without being cloying or trite is a challenge. So often, gratitude essays exhort us to count blessings such as family, friends, gainful employment, health, air conditioning, and the like, or admonish us to steer clear of complaining.
But an individual’s life in a fallen world is going to involve some experiences for which gratitude is not the proper reaction. Trying to maintain it in those situations is an invitation to cognitive dissonance. Still, we know that gratitude is indispensable to a healthy outlook.
Cultivating gratitude requires seeing its relationship to other desirable traits. It’s intricately bound up with humility, for instance. It becomes easier to be grateful as evidence mounts that we’re created beings, features of a universal architecture that we didn’t design.
Each of us is unnecessary. In fact, the entirety of creation is superfluous. Our creator is self-contained and only brought about the universe in order to reflect the beauty of His self-contained nature. Our role is a bit different from the rest of creation, however. We’re the only creatures capable of understanding that the objects of our senses are beautiful. We’re also the only beings capable of creating yet more beauty with the raw materials we find.
We can, of course, use that creative power for ill. That occurs when our free will lacks guidance regarding preferences: good over evil, beauty over ugliness, truth over falsehood.
Thus, the gift of discernment is also closely related to gratitude. Keenly honed discernment steers us away from the inclination to add to the sum total of ugliness in creation. The discerning being desires to do his or her creating in a way that reflects the sublime natural backdrop to his or her life.
And, obviously, gratitude is a state that necessitates a being to whom we direct it. Reverence, then, is another trait to which gratitude is connected. Real thankfulness springs from awe. We sense that the majesty of a creator requires a majestic response. A momentary nod before resuming a state of distractedness is woefully insufficient. We owe the creator everything.
At the top of any list of counted blessings, we ought to place humility, discernment, and reverence. We ought to say, “Thank you, God, for these gifts, which make appreciation for the treasure of my birthright possible. In short, thank you for making me human.”
Our humanity is the great prize. The comfort and convenience of our circumstances largely come about via the creations of people, and our access to them has an element of luck to it. Whether we have a lot of such access or very little depends on the times and places into which we’re born.
But the traits that distinguish us as human beings are universally bestowed. They don’t depend on the environment in which someone develops.
My pet cat is incapable of gratitude, so it’s up to me to extend gratitude in his stead. As a higher being, I’ve been granted the privilege of recognizing and revering God, the notion of beauty with which He’s imbued me, and an understanding that I fit into a plan.
Real gratitude, we come to see, is a form of worship. It’s the proper default state for totally dependent beings in an otherwise confusing cosmos.
Barney Quick is an Adjunct Professor teaching Jazz and Rock & Roll History at Indiana University Columbus. He received his Bachelor’s degree in English and Literature from Wabash College and his Master’s degree in History from Butler University. @Penandguitar
Thanks for reading Conscience & Conviction! Subscribe for free to receive new issues in your inbox.