This week commences the annual festivities of Thanksgiving among those of us in the North Western Hemisphere. Amidst the generous portions of food and family, is the explicit attunement to an “attitude of gratitude.” This is the season where, along with Christmas music already being played on the airwaves, a distinct line is drawn in the sand and we say with fervor, “Indeed, I am thankful!” And the reflections begin, do they not? In our own times of prayerful meditation, with our children and even with our friends and partners, in due diligence, we ask one another for what are we thankful? We emphasize the many blessings and gifts we have been given and for which we are grateful. And this is all well and good—certainly, this inclination should be a daily practice—but I can’t help but consider the giving that has to occur for me to be thankful in response.
It is a simple discipline to look around that which constitutes our lives—at the food on our plates, the warm walls that shelter our sleep—and acknowledge that someone built our house (I am grateful), a farmer grew my food (I am thankful), etc. Very soon after we begin this recognition of receipt, our awareness shifts and grows to include even more gifts and blessings that come from the various relationships in our lives. Further reflection allows even this broadening circle of thanksgiving to expand to include the natural world; we contemplate the air we breath is a gift of the trees and the water we drink is provided by rainfall and glacial streams. We arrive here on this magnificent gift of a planet and everything is given to us. The ground we stand on, the sustenance in our bellies, the clothes on our back—these are all gifts that are the result of sacrifices on the part of our greater home, the Universe. Mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme, talks about that from out of the numinous spark that began all of life—the fireball, stars, extinct species, Sun, Earth, animals, plants, and other humans—have been given the gifts that were needed and are needed for our lives.
We see that everything around us, and most notably above us, is giving of itself so that we may live our lives. Let us look at our sun. There is an incredible, mind-blowing process that is occurring every second of our lives: the unfolding of light. Without getting into the details of this scientific transference, it is enough to say that every second our sun is transforming 4 million tons of itself into light. That ongoing transformation of itself is irreversible; there is nothing that we can do to give back the light; no advancements in solar energy will ever allow us to return any of this gifted energy to the sun. The light has been given to us; it beams to our earth and is dispersed in all directions. Everything that’s happened in the life of this planet is directly dependent upon the sun’s light. Every second it is given to us is for the sustenance of our lives and the lives of the billions of species on this planet. If this ongoing gift of light ceased, life as we know it would stop as well. Our earth’s temperature would plummet to 400 degrees below zero; our biosphere would die. This generous, sacrificial giving doesn’t require anything of us in return. Should we be thankful? I think so.
The early Celtic Christians nurtured a unique relationship with Creation as they had a deep understanding that nature was revelatory. They were alert and discerning of theophanies or showings of God in the world, and cosmos, around them. The sun, moon and stars—these ‘celestial luminaries’ (Eriugena, Periphyseon 711A)—shone out of the darkness and expressed something of the inexpressible nature of God. What is it that they are saying? What is the sun revealing about the Creator with its on-going process of light-giving?
All of human activity is generated by the generosity of the sun. Our very lives directly depend upon this ongoing gift of the sun; this is a real sacrificial, ongoing event. The sun is giving of itself so that we might have life. It is both giving us the way with its energy, and showing us the way with its light. This is a universal truth that has presented itself the world over, in all cultures, by way of deep archetypes and is manifested by the Christ. All has been given—Life itself is being given—on our account. And what is asked of us in return? I wonder if we are asked for more than just a seasonal attitude of gratitude. I wonder if with this universal model of unconditional giving, we too are being asked to give sacrificially, to participate in this great exchange of reciprocal giving; that we too are being invited to be the life-giving light to others?