In pagan times, people gave thanks to different gods for varying aspects of their lives, for example by giving thanks to the sun god for sustaining life and the rain god for watering their crops. Being at the mercy of natural forces, people saw gods at play in every aspect of their lives.
All that changed with the advent of the one God of Judaism. One formidable God replaced an assembly of characters, making it so that all thanks and petitions were aimed in one direction.
In modern times, can we do both and be grateful to the web of life while also thanking the creator and sustainer of life?
Here is a little thought experiment to test that theory. I am sitting at my desk and noticing the things around me. I wonder, should I go straight to the source in gratitude for my chair, my computer, my table, my pens, my whiteboard, and so on? Wouldn’t I be cutting out individual parts of creation, the people who made all these things I am enjoying and the elements from which they are made? If I truly appreciate creation, shouldn’t I be thankful for all of it?
Shouldn’t I be thankful for the natural elements from which these things on my desk were made, most of which I cannot name?
Shouldn’t I be thankful to the miners who dug up these materials, the people who transported and processed them, the designers and engineers who created my computer, and the software programmers who wrote the code that allows me to type at lightning speed while listening to my favorite classical music at the same time?
How far back should I go? The creation of the Earth? The Big Bang? Further?
When I take time to appreciate the role that all of creation plays in this moment—from the origins of the universe to the creation of the elements to all the people who have done mental and physical work to create my surroundings—it becomes crystal clear to me that everything is connected to everything else. It is impossible to ever be alone in this world.
Based on my little thought experiment, it’s clear to me that it’s both possible and feasible to combine methods of gratitude. I can be thankful for individual parts of creation while also appreciating the creative and sustaining force behind all of it.
An Overwhelming Feeling of Interconnectedness
When I drive to meet my family for Thanksgiving, I can easily keep going. On route to my destination, I can be grateful to the construction workers and taxpayers who make our trip possible, along with the carmakers, engineers, oil producers, and all the natural elements. The list of things that are involved in making a seemingly mundane trip are endless.
At every single moment, there is a long list of things to be thankful for.
Continually being aware of everything that we can be grateful for can seem completely overwhelming. We will never be fully able to comprehend the complexity of the moment. We are mere humans after all. Yet, the feeling of interconnectedness that it creates is truly magnificent, especially when we combine gratitude for each and every element of creation with our appreciation of the source.
Allowing the Stream of Gratitude to Flow
It’s such a simple little idea, and by no means original. Nevertheless, allowing the stream of gratitude to flow is life enhancing. Even now, as I type these words, I am thinking of the long line of people who have contributed to the language I use as my tool for conveying thoughts, the elements from which my computer is made, the wide network that allows me to post these words on the Internet, and you, the person reading this article.
For all of it, and much more, I am grateful.
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We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We provide people with access to strategies, methods, and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge-building across divides. We use the term interfaith broadly to mean 'a strong belief in someone or something' and focus on improving interrelations between people who have different worldviews. Our primary goals are to remind people of our shared humanity and to support new and ongoing efforts.
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