By Carmen Acevedo Butcher

Thanksgiving Grace

During this season, we give thanks for our blessings. Well, we do if we can find the time and peace of mind to do that when papers must be graded, studying done, or work projects finished while steam rises from bubbling pots on the stove and the kitchen counter is covered with snapped green bean ends and a dusting of flour, and we’ve run out of sugar. My blessings include cornbread dressing and cranberry sauce, my family, and vacation time at home.

I find myself reflecting as the year ends that we could bring more peace into our lives by praying for the gift of thanksgiving as a lifestyle, rather than the chaotic effort of a day or two out of 365.

We only need to change our minds, shifting unruly thoughts into moments of focusing on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, remembering that the abundant kindness, friendship, love, laughter, shared tears, food, and mercy in my life are all grace (Phil. 4:8).

In fact, thank first meant “thought” — in Old English it was þanc (also spelled þonc). Soon, þanc signified “favorable thought,” and later “favor, grace.” So when Anglo-Saxons prayed, “Gode ælmiehtegum sí þonc,Þonc is “thanks.” “May God Almighty be given thanks.”

So good thoughts are related to “thanks” the way grace is gratitude’s heart. The root of Spanish gracias and Italian grazie (“thanks”), grace is also kin to the French gracier for “mercy,” from Middle French for “stop (a punishment)” and “pardon (a criminal).” So the essence of grace is it’s “free of charge,” as in English gratis and French gracieux. With my so many middle-aged-adult bills for college and braces and band and a mortgage and property taxes and insurance and...I’m thankful grace is free.

But when I get tired or aggravated or hurt, it’s hard to remember to be thankful. We need community. As my friend Mother Buschbeck said, “One hot coal goes cold more quickly than a bed of hot coals.” So I often spend time with my favorite “cloud of witnesses,” wise ancient friends who refresh my memory in this adventure of giving thanks:

[L]ift up your heart and focus on the love and goodness of [Christ’s] divinity. Be thankful that he would stoop so low for us, putting on our deadly humanity. ~Anonymous, Book of Privy Counsel, Chapter 12 [1]

Jesus, by meditating on the love of Your heart as You hung on the cross and by contemplating the fountains of mercy flowing from the power of Your amazing love, I’ve received the oil of gratitude and also ointment for any hardship. ~Gertrude the Great, The Herald of Divine Love [2]

Thank you so much, Eternal Father, for not abandoning me, Your handiwork. Thank You for not turning Your face away from me. Thank You for not making light of my desires. You are Light, and You’ve seen and forgiven my dark weaknesses. You are Life, and You’ve never believed me dead. You, Doctor, have listened to my grave illnesses of soul. You, Eternal Purity, have seen and forgiven my terrible habits. You, Infinite Love, overlook that I am finite, and You, Wisdom, haven’t held me accountable for my foolishness. . . . Instead, in Your light You’ve given me light, Lord. In your wisdom I’ve come to know the truth. In Your mercy I’ve found Your love and affection for my neighbors. What made You do this? Certainly it wasn’t my virtues. It was always Your Love. Thank you. ~Catherine of Siena, Dialogue [3]

I praise and adore and thank You as best I can for Your wise kindness and kind wisdom. . . . I sing You songs of praise and thanksgiving for all creatures in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, for all which are and were and will be born. . . . May my soul bless You, O Lord my Creator! May my soul bless You from my very marrow. . . . Thank You for Your great mercy. ~Gertrude the Great, The Herald of Divine Love and Hymn of Thanksgiving [4]

[A]sk God to help you understand in your soul every blessing you have received, and you will possess gratitude and be able to serve God fully. Then contemplate God’s acts of creation and redemption. Thank him for these and for sharing his love with you. See that God made our world and animates it still; his sunbeams cover the earth literally, and he also shines his blessings on us—mercy, love, forgiveness, and undying loyalty. ~Ignatius of Loyola Spiritual Exercises [5]

Our Lord is kind; he says, “I am always here with you.” . . . That’s how I came to understand that everything is made available to us through God’s unending goodness. . . . When the Trinity—through love—made the world and us, this act of creativity joined every person on earth to God. . . . In this bond with God, we are strong. In it we love and thank the One who made us. We can’t stop praising Him. ~Julian of Norwich, Revelations [6]


[1] Carmen Butcher, Cloud of Unknowing(206)

[2] Carmen Butcher, A Little Daily Wisdom, September 24 (212)

[3] Carmen Butcher, A Little Daily Wisdom, May 3 (96-97)

[4] Carmen Butcher, A Little Daily Wisdom, January 27 and 28 (21-22)

[5] Carmen Butcher, Following Christ (81)

[6] Carmen Butcher, Carmen Butcher, Following Christ(103) and A Little Daily Wisdom, January 3 (4-5)


About the Author

Carmen Acevedo Butcher is a professor of English and scholar-in-residence at Shorter University in Rome, Georgia. She was the Carnegie Foundation professor of the year for Georgia in 2006, and during the 2004-2005 year she and her family lived and learned in Seoul, South Korea, while she taught as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at Sogang University. She has written books on medieval women mystics and linguistics. More information can be found on these at her website. (Photo credit: Katherine Butcher.)

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