Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the appreciation season. From now until the end of the year I will open my mailbox and find cards: from charities I've given to, my car dealership, and probably Groupons, all thanking me for the money I spent with them this year. And I will be making cards and baking for people I appreciate: the woman who cuts my hair, the maintenance guys where I live, friends who've done me special kindnesses this year. There will be a lot of appreciation flowing for the next five weeks. This is good.
Appreciation expresses who we are and what we like; what makes us happy. Gratitude, on the other hand, profoundly changes who we are and how we see and, I guess, what we appreciate. This year I find myself grateful for something I have always merely appreciated: water.
My grandparents lived within the limits of their cistern. If the cistern went dry they had to buy water and fill it. They didn't know the plentiful water that we take for granted until very near the ends of their lives. Their gratitude for water, though never verbalized, was evident in the way they handled it. Water rarely went down the drain. It was used and later returned to the earth. Hand washing was accomplished in a basin of water that grew cold as the day went on, and when it became too dirty to clean your hands, was dumped on trees. Water was scarce; scarcity made it precious.
Water has been scarce in my part of the world this year. We are experiencing a drought on par with the one during the dust bowl. Stage two restrictions are in place: No water in restaurants unless requested. You can't water your yard more than once a week. Cars can only be washed at car washes that recycle a certain percentage of the water used. We are encouraged to turn off the water when we brush our teeth, and to use our toilets more often without flushing. This is a far cry from the scarcity of my grandparent's situation, but a significant change for many of us.
Scarce as it is, water is also common. It is our first home – before we are even born water in a womb cushions us, cradles us, and nourishes us as we grow. The waters of baptism become our second home, marking us with the cross of Christ and sealing our identity as children of God forever. Tears allow us to release our deepest joys and sorrows. My body is more than 50% water. None of us can survive very long without it. In that, all of us are one. The need for water may be the most unifying of all human qualities.
Much has been written about the power of gratitude. From monks in the Middle Ages to Oprah Winfrey, thoughtful people have pointed out that being grateful changes us. Gratitude shapes our attitudes and impacts our choices. It creates awareness and empathy. Moving from appreciation to gratitude is movement toward God.
I am grateful for water this Thanksgiving; for its scarcity and its commonness. That gratitude allows me to encounter the sacred many times each day. Sacred water points me to the creator, provider, and redeemer of all. Thanks be to God.