Two years ago, I made a post called gift and gratitude. It is primarily about gifts. I want to speak more about being thankful today.
Gratitude in God’s Country
I met Rick Clark, an Indiana farmer who appears in the film Common Ground. It was not a long conversation. “Thanks for coming to God’s Country to speak to us,” I said. His reply surprised me, “Don’t ever leave it.” He saw what many visitors to our area see. In a way, he saw the forest and not necessarily the trees. Many times I only see the trees. Some times I only see the weeds. Of course, even blackberry plants have thorns. But is it all about our focus?
I am a grateful southern Appalachian. And I am sure my Christian faith stems from the culture of where I live. Yet, that kind of faith is only as shallow as the loose soil over the rocks here. Something has to be involved in deepening one’s faith.
Many readers will be familiar with the concept of a dual revelation. One is the book of Scripture. The other is the “book” of Nature. As one indigenous American says, “Europeans did not bring the Creator here. The Creator has always been here. I see no reason to doubt this. God promised to show the promised land to Abram. God had obviously been there before then. But the dual revelation does not suffice to deepen one’s spiritual connection.
The importance of thoughtfulness came to me one day as I was helping some family members clear a piece of land for their house. One person asked me about a very straight tree we had yet to cut. “Do you think the wood is worth…what… $1200 or more?” I saw a tree that had lived there a long time. He thought he understood price per board feet. Value is not relative. But, it can be assessed in different ways. Would the tree be more valuable as wood? Or would is be more valuable for how it benefited the land and the house? It is difficult to compare values in this case. The tree was pine and probably not worth that much as a building material. I did not say anything about that.
The Problem of Nature as Revelation
What exactly is the book of nature? Is it everything we learn about nature? Our collective knowledge has increased exponentially. But can we truly say that knowledge gives a revelation from God? That is a problem for us. It is like the circular reasoning of fundamentalist Christians.
- The Bible is the trustworthy word of God.
- The Bible says we can rely on God’s teaching.
- Therefore the Bible accurately answers all questions.
We first must value nature as a revelation of the Creator before we start recognizing the handiwork of the Creator. Did God put fish in the water to feed us? Does that include carp? We cannot be grateful because nature is a revelation from God.
Gratitude as Gift
Gratitude itself is a gift. It is a gift from a tradition. The cultural Christianity of my area traditionally holds nature to be a divine gift. When we regard it as such, we find our spiritual life begins to be more thoughtful. An ecosystem is greater than its parts. We try describing how it works based on limited knowledge. The forest is greater than the trees, weeds, and thorns. Being within an ecosystem, we can understand it has a viewpoint that is larger than ours. Gratitude determines whether we value whatever or whomever is placed before us. It is important to remember this.
The question remains about how this gratitude is specifically Christian. It is not other than the fact Christians are instructed to be grateful. We are not the only ones who do this. As a value it gets to the essence of the spiritual life pursued in other traditions. It is Christian without being specifically so. I can be grateful for that too.