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Thursday, November 10, 2011

An epistemology of thanksgiving

"For Christian thought, then, delight is the premise of any sound epistemology: it is delight that constitutes creation, and so only delight can comprehend it, see it aright, understand its grammar.  Only in loving creation's beauty--only in seeing that creation is beauty--does one truly apprehend what creation is."--David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite:  The Aesthetics of Christian Truth

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays on the American calendar.  One reason is that our commercial culture has failed to commercialize it, and our commercial culture fails at very little it sets itself out to do.  Since our commercial culture is a principality and power in New Testament language, I think I am sane to personify it as an entity with purpose.  I suspect one reason for this failure is Thanksgiving's referent beyond the sovereign self of consumerism.  One is thankful to someone or someones outside oneself.  Perhaps another is that gratitude implies contentment.  "The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need."  We are thankful for what we have, not for what we might have or would like to have.  Thanksgiving also implies grace.  We are grateful for gifts we receive which have no economic relationship to our own efforts, abilities or accomplishments.

Thanksgiving as a holiday is not explicitly Christian, but it resonates strongly with Christian thought and practice.  Non-Christians certainly practice giving thanks.  The quote above from David Bentley Hart suggests uniquely Christian ways of thinking about Thanksgiving, with an epistemology of delight.  Epistemology is the category of philosophy that studies how we know what we know.  How do we know, for example, that God is love?  How do we know the earth revolves around the sun?  Epistemology studies these questions.

What Hart boldly suggests is that, in Christian thought, the epistemological language, our language of knowing what we know about God is delight.  It is in delight that God creates all things, and it is in delight that we appreciate them, with delight forming a kind of language of engagement and apprehension in our relationship with God.  It is with delight God creates snowflakes (the first of the season falling as I write), and it is with delight that, in Christian practice, we appreciate their beauty and delight in them.  It is with delight God gives food to share and enjoy, fellowship to encourage, fire to warm, and, ultimately, God's own son to triumph over death.  The Christian practice of Thanksgiving delights in these gifts, and celebrates them daily, but perhaps especially in this season.

It is no accident that the central observance of Christian faith is called Eucharist, or Thanksgiving.  One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 104, a psalm of joy and delight.  I commend it to us this season and throughout the year.


Kathy said...

Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday also. I will read psalm 104 tonight. Thank you for your posts.

Phil Waite said...

You are welcome Kathy. Thank you for reading and responding.