A few years ago, when I was on staff with Agape I read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. When we moved to Addis Ababa nearly two years ago and experienced the chaos of the city and the shock of the culture, I was drawn to read it again. It illuminated so much to me about how crucial it is to give thanks. Passages of scripture that I glossed over in the past suddenly came to light. For example, St. Paul encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus the Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Really? All circumstances? Apparently yes (!) even when I’m feeling the blues and the circumstances of my day are not going the way I planned. Giving thanks can be a tricky practice and I fail to do it every day. But what I learnt from Ann Voskamp has stuck with me. The Greek word for thanksgiving is ‘eucharisteo.’ It’s where we get the word Eucharist. Twelve hours prior to Jesus’ execution by the Romans he was practicing eucharisteo with his disciples as they ate the sacred meal (Luke 22:19). In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.”
The amazing thing about this word is that it is also the root for another Greek word: ‘chara’, which is the Greek word for ‘joy.’ Ah joy! That elusive emotion we long would fill our hearts on a daily basis. That feeling that we so often cannot put language to. That three-letter word that the world longs to experience more of. What crucial clue does the Greek give us about these two words eucharisteo and chara? Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanksgiving? Voskamp describes it eloquently: ‘Deep chara joy is found only at the table of euCHARisteo.’ As I read over these words and commit once again to try to put this ancient tradition to practice,
it begs the question: As long as thanks is possible, joy is also possible?
I think again of St. Paul’s words: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Jesus the Christ.’
Neuroscience also offers insight into this ancient practice. Apparently our brains have a negative bias – the mind prefers to constellate around fearful and problematic situations. I remember hearing the Franciscan mystic Richard Rohr describe negative and critical thoughts like Velcro – they stick and hold; whereas our positive and joyful thoughts are like Teflon – they slide away. We have to choose to deliberately hold on to positive thoughts so they can imprint. In fact, when a loving or positive thought comes your way you have to savour it for a full 15 seconds before it can harbour and store away in your implicit memory. I’ve personally found the practice of giving thanks to be a huge help in harbouring and storing chara joy. Starting and ending the day with 3 to 5 things we’re thankful for lightens the load of burdens we inevitably pick up during the busyness of our day. Gratitude can about be big miracles or ‘small’ blessings. The practice might involve giving thanks for basic needs, spiritual truths, other people, opportunities or simply the circumstances we find ourselves in. The depths of eucharisteo are deep indeed!
So here goes: Today, I’m grateful for the refreshing smell of earth and plants in our garden. I’m grateful for porridge oats that sustain me. I’m forever thankful for Fiona. I’m grateful that we feel well in our bodies. I’m thankful for finding purpose and interesting work in Ethiopia. I’m thankful for relationships with my parents and brothers. I’m grateful that I have an Irish passport. I’m grateful for education. I’m thankful for Urban Junction and the love we have experienced in that community. I’m grateful for clean water. I’m grateful for the woods behind our house. And I’m thankful for resurrection and hope beyond what I can see.
Theme photo by Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash