Thanksgiving as a Spiritual Practice by Bruce Epperly

Thanksgiving is at the heart of the spiritual journey, whether you are a monk or a parent. Thanksgiving roots us in the graceful interdependence of life and reminds us that none of us ever makes it through life on our own. As a child, I learned the “A-C-T-S” formula for prayer—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. As an adult, I seek to cultivate the spirit of gratitude essential to my own well-being and to the well-being of my relationships with family members, congregants, colleagues, students, friends, and God.

Thanksgiving places the events of our lives in perspective. I believe that part of the American malaise, reflected in an apparently pervasive anger among the body politic, reflects a failure in thanksgiving and a spiritual myopia which focuses on scarcity and fear rather than abundance and love. There are pockets of poverty, unemployment, and changing trends in the workplace which have rendered certain jobs obsolete. The pain of economic dislocation is real. Still, most Americans enjoy creature comforts and security their great-grandparents could not imagine. There is much to be done in improving and universalizing our health care system, retraining in response to lost jobs, educational equality, safety in the streets, and economic justice and equity. But, cries of “losing” by demagogues and ambient anger in the populace will not create a more perfect union, nor will it create the healthy and environmentally conscious economics we need today.

Thanksgiving roots our lives in a world of blessing. As prayers I’ve heard in African American congregations assert, “I thank you, God, for waking me up this morning.” In a similar fashion, each morning as I begin my walk, I proclaim, “This is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

On numerous occasions, as a pastor, I have experienced the witness of persons with life-threatening and incurable illnesses proclaiming, “I’m so grateful for the life I’ve had,” “I thank God for each new day,” “I give thanks for my doctors, nurses, and family.” While they may not be cured of their illnesses, these intentions give witness to the healing power of gratitude. “Life may be difficult, but God is here and my life is rooted in God’s grace,” such affirmations witness.  When we are grateful, our pain, struggle, and suffering, become part of a larger tapestry that enables us not only to face what we cannot change but respond creatively to personal and social issues that are in our power.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Dag Hammarskjold, who once served as Secretary General of the United Nations. It has become a spiritual talisman for me.

For all that has been—thanks!
For all that shall be—yes!

Thanksgiving is the great “yes” to the future. Grounded in the grace of interdependence, we can choose to be open to God’s future blessings, our future adventures, and to new possibilities for the future.

Most of us can begin our journey toward a life of thanksgiving by cultivating spiritual self-awareness. We can keep our senses open throughout the day for expected and unexpected blessings. We can give thanks silently for our loved ones and share our thanks verbally in response to kindness. We can pause to give thanks throughout the day. We can also say “thank you” whenever we have a positive encounter at work, in relationships, or in business or shopping transaction. We can begin the day with an affirmation such as:

This is the day that God has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it.

I thank you God for the wonder of life and the beauty of this day.

I thank you God for my life and my gifts.

I thank you God for the possibilities that await me today.

Gratitude is at the heart of the spiritual journey. We can “become fire,” and become warm with grace and love as a result of our day to day commitments to give thanks in all things.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, Centerville, Massachusetts ( and professor in the areas of theology, spirituality, and ministry at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington D.C. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he is the author of forty books, including The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality in the Postmodern World and Anamchara Book’s Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global ChristiansHoli