Over the years I have heard many persons say that as far as holidays are concerned, Thanksgiving is their favorite. They cite the general lack of obligation overload. They say it evokes memory, a longing for community and a chance even for cynics and curmudgeons to acknowledge their various dependencies for the sustaining of their lives.
At our Thanksgiving table we always do the clichéd, “let’s each say a word about something for which we’re grateful.” This can be a little kitschy, especially for newcomers, but generally everyone gets into the spirit and words of gratitude are shared and appreciated.
But for all of the hoped-for positive good will, Thanksgiving has always seemed an odd holiday to me: established by presidential proclamation to accomplish a spiritual purpose in a land that prides itself on the separation of the state and institutional religion. There is no small tension here, for in truth, who is to say whose God is being addressed in such a common undertaking? We’re invited to gather for common purpose, but we mustn’t be too glib about claiming that underneath it all everyone really does worship at the same altar. That would diminish rather than strengthen the bonds of our unity.
It’s useful to remember that when Abraham Lincoln re-established the practice of summoning the nation to a day of Thanksgiving our country was at the bloody nadir of our protracted Civil War about which Lincoln wrote that parties in the north and the south “both read the same Bible and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other… The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” When you stop to think about that, it was an audacious thing to offer thanksgiving under such dire circumstance.
It’s not lost on me that in these rancorous days prayers of every sort are being flung heavenward to win the support of favored deities in our nation and in lands covering our globe. It was the peculiar genius of Lincoln to see the merit in calling the tortured nation to look up from graveyards, hospitals, and rifle barrels aimed at implacable enemies, to see a larger purpose, and to regain national bearing in a grander, if not completely transparent, vision. Call it an act of rebellion at humanity’s fickle condition; but it was a profoundly mature spiritual idea. Pausing for Thanksgiving was a kind of moratorium, even disarmament, if only for a day, to acknowledge that one’s prayers are always dwarfed by God who causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.
In this way Thanksgiving is rooted in humility. No one can express authentic gratitude if it is not wrapped in humility.
My Christian heart tells me Jesus favors such a thing. And he doesn’t favor it for my sake only. He favors it for the sake of my neighbor and even for my enemy.
May this coming week flow with gratitude…
And for every good thing, including our friendship, thanks be to God!