“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice,” German theologian Meister Eckhart said back in the 14th century.
Each year on Thanksgiving Day, whether one chooses to call it a prayer or prefers another word, we Americans pause to say, “Thank you.”
Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays in our American calendar when we don’t exchange presents with people, and yet, it is a holiday based on gifts — the gifts we receive throughout the year. We gather to express our gratitude (from the Latin “gratia:” “grace, pleasing, favorable”) because we realize how much we have been given. We acknowledge the bounty of our gifts even if they don’t measure to the standards the world imposes or that we impose upon ourselves.
To whom or to what we are giving thanks varies from culture to culture. It may be other people, impersonal nature or non-human objects (God, animals, the cosmos), but throughout history the world’s religious thinkers and ethical writers have agreed that humans have a moral imperative to feel and express gratitude for gifts we receive.
An additional aspect of this thanksgiving is the awareness that the gifts are not necessarily deserved or earned.