All is Gift (Theology for Thanksgiving)

“Where did you come from?”

This basic, almost childish, question of ontology is perhaps the basis of all right thinking about our lives. For Augustine, in his classical work Confessions, it grounds his ability to understand his life as completely and fully dependent on God.* We did not create our own lives. Our existence, and all of the different parts of that existence, are complete gifts from God.

This is a truth made clearer when one is in relationship with someone will special needs such as autism or down syndrome. I made no choice, and exerted no effort, in order to be given the physiological or biological abilities to walk, talk, think, speak, create, work, or relate to others. Accordingly, I didn’t choose my gender or my ethnicity. I didn’t choose my family or my location of origin. Upon reflection, I could have just as easily been born to a teenager in Syria who is now a refugee as to a well-to-do American family in a suburb who discusses the plight of refugees. I could have just as easily been born without the ability to think critically or communicate effectively.

Everything in my life, at the end of the day, is a gift.

It is only when I come to grips with this fact that I am able to live as a creature and express the most basic, yet most satisfying, instinct of a creature: thanksgiving. 

I offer to you, then, two poets’ reflections on the creatureliness of life and the inherent gift of gratitude that flows from it:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put ignorance into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in his toil – this is God’s gift to man.” – Solomon, King of Israel [Ecclesiastes 3:9-13]

The colors of a sunrise,
a morning suprise,
the love you find in another’s eyes.
The hand that helps you up, when you’ve fallen down;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

The changing of the seasons, life is born anew.
Laughter and smiles and birds that sing;
that hope that we cling to when the darkness comes;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

Memories of a yesterday, tears that flow,
broken dreams, broken hearts we learn to grow.
A God who will let us know we’re not alone,
we’re not alone.
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.

Hearts that unite, a friendship born,
in sacred earth seeds are sown and we are fed.
Hands unafraid to reach and souls that touch;
All is gift, my friend, all is gift from a loving God.
Kathy Sherman


  • Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Augustine’s thought: “That we are dependent beings is self-evident if we acknowledge as we should that we cannot remember our birth. Augustine, like Wittgenstein, emphasizes the significance of birth as a definitive human experience that makes impossible our temptation to ignore the fact we are bodily creatures. Our bodily character makes us mysteries to ourselves inviting us to ask the childish question, “Where did I come from?” It is Augustine’s willingness to risk appearing childish by probing the ontological implications of that question that Rees argues makes the account of his life in the Confessions so compelling.”

 

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