In a Land with Much for Which to Be Thankful
Happy Thanksgiving, dear American readers!
Today marks the day when we pause to take time away from our busy schedules to spend time with family, stuff ourselves with choice foods and rich drinks, watch copious amounts of football, and offer thanks to our Creator for His bountiful gifts. Meister Eckhart once said that “if the only prayer you ever say is thank you, it will be enough,” and today we stop to offer thanksgiving for our blessings, great and small.
Then, of course, tomorrow morning we will go right back to being the self-absorbed, thankless people that we are for much of the rest of the year. Others have rightly decried the encroachment of rampant consumerism on this holiday of gratitude and remembrance of blessing, and I will refrain from adding too much to that critique.1 Instead, this Thanksgiving, I invite you to journey with me on a short account of some things for which we ought to be thankful this year.
Our thankfulness should start with the One to whom we ought to be most thankful and the One who has granted us the capacity for gratitude: the Lord God Almighty. The rich tradition of thanksgiving in the Biblical tradition ought to enliven our praise of the Giver of good gifts, not only during the Thanksgiving holiday but also as we move into the season of Advent and the celebration of God’s greatest gift to humanity, Jesus Christ. Take the time to truly express your gratitude to God today, perhaps saying with the Apostle Paul and Christians throughout the ages, “Thanks be to you, O God, for your gifts, especially the indiscernible gift of your blessed Son.”2
The gift of family—despite shortcomings and holiday stresses—remains one of the most common areas of life for which Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful. I realize that not everyone has the blessing of a connected, loving family—and we pray for the unification of those who are separated or estranged. But for those of us with happy and healthy families, there are few greater supports and blessings in this world. Whether you are spending time with your family or couldn’t make it home today, express to members of your family how thankful you are for the godsend they are in your life.
We ought to be thankful for forgiveness in (at least) two senses. First, for Christians, we should thankful to God for the ongoing gift of the forgiveness of our sins. Perhaps this is my shortcoming, but when thinking of things to be thankful for, too often I thank God for his presence, his material gifts in my life, and the work of the Son, but then functionally stop there. A second sense in which we should be thankful for forgiveness comes in our daily acts of forgiving one another. Our communities—home, work, school, church—are full of people who are in relationship with us and who (if anyone is at all like me) have extended forgiveness during the past year. Pause today to offer thanks not only to God for his great forgiveness, but also to those gracious and loving people in your communities.
Freedom (and Security)
There has been much in the news the past several weeks which has made me particularly thankful for the freedom and security I enjoy here in the United States of America. Thanksgiving has often been a politically charged holiday, perhaps even more so this year, as we celebrate the abundance of our nation while we are increasingly aware of the lack and fear suffered by others across the world. One way we can show our gratitude for our freedom and security involves sharing from our excess where others may have lack. Whatever your position on the Syrian refugee crisis, consider tangibly giving to help those suffering from war and terror there (I would suggest International Orthodox Christian Charities and Hand in Hand for Syria).
Fellowship, Food, and Football
This is perhaps the most obvious list of things to be thankful for today. But these things may also serve as reminders to be mindful and grateful for little everyday things which seem insignificant. Often those things which we take for granted are some of the greatest blessings in our lives. What have you overlooked as you’ve given thanks today?
I could obviously go on with an alliterative list of things for which to be thankful this season. Instead I will wrap up this account with Walter Rauschenbusch’s prayer of thanksgiving for the beauty of fall—may it serve as a reminder to be thankful for the glory of creation during this beautiful season.
O God, We thank you for this earth, our home; for the wide sky and the blessed sun, for the ocean and streams, for the towering hills and the whispering wind, for the trees and green grass.
We thank you for our senses by which we hear the songs of birds, and see the splendor of fields of golden wheat, and taste autumn’s fruit, rejoice in the feel of snow, and smell the breath of spring flowers.
Grant us a heart opened wide to all this beauty; and save us from being so blind that we pass unseeing when even the common thornbush is aflame with your glory.
For each new dawn is filled with infinite possibilities for new beginnings and new discoveries. Life is constantly changing and renewing itself. In this new day of new beginnings with God, all things are possible. We are restored and renewed in a joyous awakening to the wonder that our lives are and, yet, can be. Amen.
1 For some reading on this issue, I commend Joseph Sunde’s “Christmas, Consumers, and Charity” (Ethika Politika, 2010) and (cautiously) Matt Walsh’s “If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You Are Part of the Problem” (Huffington Post Religion, 2013). See also Matthew Lee Anderson’s “On Thanksgiving and the Act of Gratitude” (Mere Orthodoxy, 2012) for some salient reflections.
2 To combine Romans 7:25 and 2 Corinthians 9:15.
Image courtesy of Paul Bica.