Whether we acknowledge it or not, unless it has been pounded out of us, thanksgiving is a natural spontaneous human impulse.

When I look across the Juan de Fuca Strait at the Olympic Mountains on a clear morning something stirs in me that feels like “Thank you.” Looking in the eyes of a toddler, “Thank you” spontaneously forms in my heart.

“Thank you” is always an exchange. It involves two parties. There is the gift-giver and the gift-recipient. One expresses gratitude, the other is thanked.

But when my heart opens with gratitude at the wonder of creation or the beauty of a small child, it is not immediately clear who is being thanked. There is no visible hand that has given these extraordinary gifts. Where am I to direct that inarticulate stirring of gratitude that moves inside me in response to the gift of life?

The celebration of Thanksgiving suggests that this movement of gratitude is rightly directed to the Divine Presence who is the source of all life.

Addressing God, the writer of Chronicles declares,

all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. (I Chronicles 29:14)

Thanksgiving invites me to acknowledge the hidden source that lies behind all creation. I did not create the beauty I am privileged to inhabit. I did not create the food or the water that sustains me, the air I breathe, or the human relationships that nurture me with love and tenderness. I am not the power that keeps my heart beating, my lungs pumping, or my blood flowing. It is all gift.

No matter how painful or difficult some of the moments of my day may be, they are all gift. Every second that life pulses in my body is a sign of grace, a sign of that invisible intangible “force” that created and sustains all of life. The more I dwell on the beauty and open to the depth of each moment, the more my heart naturally responds in thanksgiving.

I cannot create nor do I need to try to manufacture thanksgiving. I need only to open the blessings of this life to discover that thanksgiving naturally flows in my heart.

It is sad that we have trained children to view “thank you” as a required practice of civil society and politeness instead of encouraging them to find the blessings in their lives and get in touch with the gratitude that is a natural human response.  When “thank you” is an obligation, it ceases to be true gratitude. When “thank you” is a duty to be performed it will not complete itself in the outpouring of generosity that is its natural by-product.

Paul affirmed the Christians of Macedonia who he said,

during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (II Corinthians 8:2)

Even in the midst of “extreme poverty” it was possible for the Macedonian Christians to experience abundance and so to overflow with “generosity.” Thanksgiving is the means by which I acknowledge abundance.

My awareness of blessing causes thanksgiving to arise naturally. Thanksgiving empowers me to overflow with generosity. This is the thanksgiving loop by which all of God’s creation is renewed.