Long before psychologists and mindfulness gurus were preaching the benefits of acknowledging and giving thanks for what life offers, the great faith traditions of the world strongly encouraged the practice as well. In our Catholic tradition, one of the prayer forms that is recommended is one where we give thanks to God for all that God provides.
This habit of giving thanks hit home quite recently. My son and his wife have been having a tough time with their second pregnancy. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been juggling a two-year-old, work and multiple trips to the hospital to monitor the health of mother and baby. As things became more precarious with the pregnancy, I offered to come and stay with them for a while (observing all the necessary health precautions of course).
It’s been a long time since I’ve had to care for a little person. My natural inclination would have been to indulge her in the pleasures of sipping baby cappuccinos or visiting the zoo and, of course, there would have been countless trips to the parks. But not this time. COVID-19 had suddenly made our world much smaller.
We were confined to their courtyard block and short walks to the oval and nearby creek. The walks were slower, and I had to answer a million questions. “What’s this flower?” “What’s this bug?” “Can I eat gumnuts?” “Can I eat dirt?” At one stage we were lying on the ground studying a small ant as it navigated gravel, sticks and stones. “Where’s the ant going, Nan?”
As the questions poured forth from the toddler, I was surprised by just how much there was to observe. We became more alert to the lemony smell of the eucalypts, the stickiness of the tree sap and the new growth of plants pushing their way through the wood chip. I was even surprised by the joy that sitting in the dirt and sharing a small packet of sultanas with my granddaughter could bring!
As part of my end-of-the-day prayer ritual, I found myself giving thanks to God for these simple pleasures. And, as the days went on, these short prayers of acknowledging God’s creation seemed to enter naturally into my mind as my granddaughter and I took our walks. It became obvious that the simple pleasures in life were right here at our back door.
There is no doubt that this wretched virus is playing havoc with our world. Social media, news updates and phone conversations with family and friends confirm this. But, in the midst of this pandemic, it took a small person delighting in the simple pleasures of life to remind me that there is still much to be grateful for.
Thoughts for the journey
Most people, whether they are Catholic or not, are aware that the sacred celebration that Catholics gather for is called the Mass. However, it is probably not widely known that the Mass is also referred to as the Eucharist. Examples of the use of this word can be found in texts, such as the Didache, which dates back to the late first century or early second century.
The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistia, which means thanksgiving. So when Catholics gather for the Mass, they are giving thanks for the extraordinary things Christ did for us -- namely his life, death and resurrection in order that we might also have eternal life. He also gave his ongoing promise to love us and walk with us.
As another example of the ritual of giving thanks, Christians across the world will offer a simple prayer of thanks before they eat a meal. This is commonly referred to as “Grace before meals”. For those of you thinking about what a life of faith might mean to you, and maybe to your family, a simple prayer of thanks before you eat can be an easy way to make that start.
Finally, there are plenty of Scripture references about giving thanks. I’d like to leave you with this one from St Paul’s letter to the people in Philippi. His words acknowledge that these people might be anxious about things (maybe like some of us as we live with the COVID-19 pandemic), but he encourages them to be thankful and to present their requests to God.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)
Malcolm and Sharon
Words: Sharon Brewer
Images: Family having dinner together, Lightstock.
Girl playing in dirt, Mi Pham, Unsplash.
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.