Who Do Atheists Thank on Thanksgiving?


... Or a lesson in semantics in time for Turkey Day

Being a writer, I naturally wonder about the semantics of Thanksgiving. Thankfulness or gratitude requires an object. When someone holds the door for me, I thank them. I don’t do this if I open the door and walk through it myself. When someone gives me a present, I thank them; I didn’t thank myself this morning when I bought myself a new watch.

So, to my word-obsessed mind, the question naturally arises, “Just who are we giving all those thanks to?”

Or, to put another way, who do atheists thank on Thanksgiving?

The first Thanksgiving was a harvest festival, and as such, was a way to give thanks to God for His provision. For people who believe, as Scripture says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” tomorrow will be a day of real Thanksgiving to the God who cares for them.

But I have noticed that often when people (those of faith and otherwise) say they’re thankful, what they really mean is they’re happy or pleased. As in “I’m so thankful that I bought my turkey last week when it wasn’t crowded.” Or, “I’m sure grateful Aunt Sally didn’t bring that jello mold this year.”


Thankfulness is focused on the source of the blessing; happiness on the receiver.

Tomorrow, at our Thanksgiving feast, we will go around the table and one by one, say what we are thankful for. When it is my turn, will I remember the giver of the gift, or settle for the pleasure it gave? Will I be thankful, or merely happy. Will you?

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The Day After

On this Day After, I feel I should be adding my voice to the chorus of lamentation over the death and suffering in Paris. I believe that somehow I should have something to say, some insight to offer, some outrage to give voice to, some balm for our aching souls. I have none.

I feel I should be posting encouraging Scripture verses that reassure us that God is still on his throne, despite the evidence to the contrary. Or perhaps I should be offering prayers of comfort. Maybe my contribution is a clenched fist of solidarity and a vow of “No retreat, no surrender!”

I can’t seem to muster any of these things. I am just sad. And mad. And afraid. The words of the Isis statement claiming responsibility are meant to strike fear in my heart, and although I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of frightening me, they do. They are words of darkness and chaos; people who say yes to this kind of mass murder are not likely to say no to much else. And while I feel safe here, now, I know I have no more reason to than those who innocently went out to dinner, or to a concert, or to a soccer game yesterday in Paris.

I ache for the lives lost, for the suffering ahead for the wounded, for the people afraid to leave their homes for fear of what a trip to the bakery might hold. And I know that God wants me to feel compassion, to mourn with those who mourn. I know that when I do this, I am most like Jesus. And yet, I somehow have to do this without being overcome by the horror of what has happened, I have to hang onto some hope. Hope that God will comfort. Hope that God’s justice will prevail. Hope that this will not be the final word.

But maybe The Day After it is too soon for me to hope. This morning, I opened my Bible app and this is what I saw:

I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

                                                             (Psalm 121:1-2)

On The Day After, as I resist being pulled into the vortex of death, darkness and despair, all I can manage is to lift up my eyes to the hills and wait for the Lord to send his help.

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Rescue Me

In honor of National Cat Day I want to tell you about Bert.DSC_0314

Bert is a 10-year-old cat who has come to live with us after his human died this summer. I recently wrote about my sorrow and frustration at not being able to save her from the many challenges she faced. http://bit.ly/1GiK18I

I couldn’t save my friend, but I wound up rescuing her cat.

With his human companion suddenly gone and his already chaotic home upended by family members clearing it out, Bert seems to have decided that I was his. I was the only one he would let near him; he’d greet me with a purr and an invitation to rub his belly.

Cats are funny that way — they take your measure, make a decision, and don’t look back.

I agreed to take him in temporarily in spite of some very real concerns. Would he get along with Roxy, our cat-in-residence? Would he use a litter box after years of using his whole apartment as one giant one?  Plus, my husband needed convincing. 

But Bert needed somewhere to go and we decided to give it a try and hope for the best. After one day hiding in the bookcase, he attached himself to me, and hasn’t let go since. He happily uses his litter box and plays with his scratching toys. He and Roxy tolerate each other most of the time. He nuzzles and cuddles and has one paw on me at all times. He is in my lap right now.

The funny thing is, for months before he came to live with us, I had been talking about getting another cat. Not that I don’t love Roxy — but she’s not a lap cat, and I needed a lap cat. But I was afraid Roxy wouldn’t be too keen on the idea, so it remained an itch that wouldn’t be scratched.

But Bert needed rescuing and somehow that trumped all my previous hesitations. What I couldn’t do for myself — get another cat just because I wanted one — I could do for someone else.

Now maybe you don’t think that with everything going on in the world, God concerns himself with cats and the people who love them. But I do. I can imagine God saying, “Listen, you two need each other.” Maybe in His infinite mercy, God saw my sorrow over not being able to save my friend and gave me the pleasure of seeing Bert thriving under my care.

Maybe God is that loving and that kind.

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