One of the most gracious and fully human acts is to give thanks. We do it all the time without really noticing what we are about. We thank the sales assistant for taking our money, the sender of emails and letters, no matter how indignant, even the dog when he moves out of the way. In the monastery, giving thanks is an essential part of daily life, from our prayer in choir to the rituals of blessing and greeting that mark the passage of time and events. At the end of each day there is a wonderful heap of gratitude stretching heavenwards, as beautiful and varied as the autumn leaves still clinging to the trees. But ‘gratitude’ is a formal word, a Latinate word; I prefer the humbler, Old English ‘thanc,’ from which our modern ‘thanks’ derives.
What we may forget, however, is the meaning of the word ‘thank’. It isn’t quite the same as gratitude: it means ‘a kindly thought’. There are times when we say ‘thank you’ through gritted teeth, when we have to muster up all our courage and self-control to smile rather than snarl. That is when I think we need to remember that ‘kindly thought’ idea. Jesus gave thanks to his Father throughout his life for everything that happened. Most of us struggle to do that consistently; but a kindly thought, when a gracious word seems beyond us, isn’t that something we might attempt? Today, as we join our U.S. friends in giving thanks, let us try to embrace the whole world with kindly thoughts. It may not sound much but it is a beginning, a way of being truly thankful for everyone and everything.