Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest-home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
(Henry Alford)

NOW THAT THE CROPS HAVE BEEN LAID BY, IT’S TIME TO GIVE THANKS. These days, our culture is more urban than rural, and it may be difficult for us to identify with the specialness of this time of year in the minds of the colonial immigrants who came to these shores in the 1600s. These folks subsisted by farming the land. Long before the Industrial Revolution drew people to the cities to work in factories where the work was the same year-round, the colonists lived (and not infrequently died) by the rise and fall of the agricultural year. When they’d labored all summer to garner food, clothing, and shelter for the winter months, the late autumn was a time for celebration. They paused to remember the graciousness of life, even at its hardest. And we would do well today, in a totally different culture, to go back in time and recall what Thanksgiving meant to these good people.

John Henry Jowett made this observation: “Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.” To give thanks is to embrace all the other qualities that should strengthen our characters, and without it, we are probably fighting a losing battle trying to find “self-fulfillment.” Perhaps this is why, in an epoch of such amazing abundance, we find ourselves going stale and burning out. If we’ve lost the habit of thanksgiving, we’ve lost the glue that binds the good life together.

But the plain fact is, it takes a certain amount of discipline to be a thankful person. For most of us, it doesn’t come naturally. We have to choose to be grateful rather than ungrateful — and we have to choose to express our gratitude. But these choices are well worth making. And with the summer behind us and winter on its way, now’s a very special time to practice this old-fashioned art, the art of appreciation.

“Cultivate the thankful spirit! It will be to you a perpetual feast” (John R. MacDuff).

Gary Henry — +

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