The American festival of Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. The fall of the year is fully with us, the historical harvest has been collected, and it is time to give thanks. A time of thanks-giving is, at the same time, a religious and a secular festival. Although increasingly encroached upon by the commercial, it is not distorted by the material in the way Christmas has become. It is unique as an opportunity for everyone, whether religious or not, to give thanks; Give thanks to God almighty; Give thanks to your personal version of the creator; or simply give thanks to those around you.
Our family has read the story of the first Massachusetts Colony Thanksgiving. Rooted in the English tradition of Harvest Festival, that first event at Plymouth was prompted by a good harvest. Giving thanks to God, giving thanks for the help of native Americans, and giving thanks to one another for the survival of the colony, inspired a tradition.
We have also visited Berkeley Plantation on Virginia’s James River, to join the commemoration of the first Thanksgiving celebrated in North America, preceding the Plymouth celebration by a couple of years. That occasion includes a re-enactment of the arrival of the first colonists and their encounter with the native population. Today the small native American tribes of the area are blessed by a strong Christian tradition, and their dance performance often includes a prayer or a psalm.
Regardless of one’s personal faith, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to Christian, Jew, Muslim alike; a secular holiday and an opportunity to choose how, and to whom, to give thanks.
A friend recently reminded me of the importance for the Christian to give thanks. Paul tells us through his first letter to the Thessalonian church to: give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:18). Giving thanks once a year on Thanksgiving, is manageable for many; but giving thanks in all circumstance, and on every day, is a totally different experience.
I’m sometimes inclined to moan and complain. When I am feeling sorry for myself, or when I am annoyed with someone or something, I’m quick to offer a word of complaint to those around me, or a prayer of complaint to the Lord. According to the scripture, that is not God’s will for me. Sometimes as an antidote to my complaints, and sometimes as a practical expression of praise, I have developed a practice of giving thanks for my family, for my colleagues, and for the provision of the Lord.
This practice, in the form of personal liturgy, is valuable for several reasons. Firstly, it reminds me of how blessed I am, even when I have forgotten, or chosen not to remember. Secondly it reminds me to pray a blessing upon others; upon my family, upon my colleagues, and upon the work that they do. And thirdly, but by no means the last reason, it reminds me of my human condition. Without God, I am nothing. Without His spirit in me, I am lost. Without the blessing of his presence and provision, my life is meaningless.
And so, I am led to a deeper level of gratitude. I am reminded that He who holds the depths of the earth in His hands (Ps. 95:4), and He who has marked off the heavens with the breadth of His hand (Isa. 40:12), has also searched me and known me (Ps. 139:1). He has made me for a purpose, has life for me to live and work for me to do.