[Abba Isaac said:] Thanksgiving seems particularly suitable for those who have torn out of their hearts the sins which pricked their conscience and are at last free from fear of falling again: and then, recollecting the generosity and the mercy of the Lord, past or present or future, are rapt away into that spark-like prayer which no mortal can understand or describe.

~ Conferences of Cassian 9.15

Thanksgiving, in this case one of four types of prayer (perhaps I’ll write on that more general subject some other time), represents an exceptional thing. It is the proper response to true joy, that joy that comes from virtue, from tearing “sins which pricked [our] conscience” out of our hearts and being freed from the fear of falling in the same way again. It is the joy that comes when, through ascetic struggle and the grace of God, we make real progress in righteousness.

There is something about that joy that is truly mysterious. It is a feeling, yes, but so different from the passions that we experience and struggle against every day that it has a transcendent quality. It is, I think, the heart’s response and the will’s assent to a provocation of the presence of the divine. True joy is eternal, a taste of heavenly glory. And when we experience that joy, when time and eternity briefly seem to kiss; the result is a prayer beyond words, “which no mortal can understand or describe.” The result—or more accurately, the free, natural, and joyful duty—is thanksgiving to God.

Such joy, as I said, is the fruit of much struggle (a “fruit of the Spirit,” in fact). Unlike pleasure, joy requires us to be serious about life. We must not only be grave enough to see our own sin and humble enough to regret it, but we must also be serious enough to determine to use whatever means necessary to struggle to overcome it and faithfully to do exactly that. True, spiritual joy is the delicate fruit of taking the world seriously, rather than making light of it. There is greater contrast between this joy and pleasure than there is between pleasure and sadness. They are as far apart as heaven and earth.

I know Thanksgiving is over, but it’s sort of a made up holiday anyway. Every day has reasons for joy, and every breath is an opportunity for thanksgiving.

I am thankful for such joy in my life. It confirms that the Gospel really is the way of life and light. It colors everything bright; it lights the darkness. It comes from and yet also produces communion with God. It sets my heart aflame and shoots off sparks of thanksgiving toward heaven.

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