Gratitude is surely among the precious few, truly renewable energy sources available to the human creature.
The hearts of both giver and receiver grow larger in the process. Saying thanks, especially beyond the demands of simple etiquette, is among the most available violence-reduction strategies.
It is quite possible, of course, that expressing gratitude simply masks the desire to get in line for future favors. Or fends off the possibility that one is now in debt to the donor. Or is simply a disguised form of doing business (as in gratuities – “tips” – to those who serve us).
Modern capitalist economic values have managed to “commodify” most of our noble human values.
“If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that” (Luke 6:32, The Message).
Genuine gratitude, on the other hand, frees us from such compulsory and stingy calculations.
It stems from the recognition that “all good and perfect gifts come from above” (James 1:17), which is to say: Good gifts do not originate with us and are not in our control. We are custodians, not customers.
Giving thanks frees us from the deadly habits of hoarding. It acknowledges that all living – whether breath or blood or water or spirit – must flow, must not be dammed up, to be enriched.
Thus the appropriate response to graciousness is to be gracious. Just as surely as water runs downhill, so, too, is gratuitous life oriented to the margin, in the direction of those who lack the capacity to reciprocate in kind.
When such gratitude abounds, life remains fertile. When it does not, soil becomes dust, available to every passing wind, choking lung and lake, every lovely relation.
To give thanks is to live thanks. All living is rooted in giving. Such is the ecology of the Spirit.
Curator of prayerandpolitiks.org, an online journal at the intersection of spiritual formation and prophetic action, and author of, most recently, In the Land of the Willing: Litanies, Prayers, Poems, and Benedictions. He was the founding director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and founding co-pastor of Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville, North Carolina.