Yes, the LORD has done great things for us,[Psalm 126:3-6 Common English Bible]
and we are overjoyed.
LORD, change our circumstances for the better,
like dry streams in the desert waste!
Let those who plant with tears
reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
Let those who go out,
crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts,
carrying bales of grain!
This Thursday is Thanksgiving.
To follow up on a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, my wife, my son, and I are making the trek to Columbus to celebrate the holiday with one of my sisters and her grandkids. It will be a smaller gathering, but we are taking all necessary precautions to be safe.
In this post, I want to focus on the significance of this day.
It is a day to thank God for the gifts of food…family…friends…and the fullness of the earth. And yes, even during a pandemic we have plenty for which to be thankful.
Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday per se, but for thousands of years, human communities have observed harvest festivals that have a religious origin. For example, several of the annual celebrations described in the Old Testament were previously harvest festivals onto which the Israelites layered their tribe’s historical memories.
But in recent years, in contrast to biblical times, Thanksgiving had become not so much a time to thank God, but rather, a national day of feasting and family, and football. The typical family gathering around the table had in some places given way to the trays around the TV set. And whoever had the remote ruled.
The Coronavirus, however, shocked us into seeing this holiday from an unfamiliar perspective.
No longer can we deny the realities of life, as was often the case. We are caught in the grip of fear.
Many who gather for Thanksgiving this year do so in settings that are teeming with tension. All of us are encircled by a culture that is deeply divided, in a nation overwhelmed with anxiety, and around family meals where loved ones who once graced the table became casualties of the virus and have gone to their eternal rest.
The Word of God in the form of the psalm quoted at the beginning of this reflection reminds us that the Lord has indeed done great things for us and continues to change our situation for the better.
Consider the health care workers who have looked after us throughout these troublesome times; the scientists who have developed the vaccines that have made it possible to gather again; and all the essential workers who have, in many circumstances, braved countless risks in order that we could navigate the challenges of life as best as possible, despite the disruptions to our routines.
Long before the Coronavirus pandemic, in 2016, the author Diana Butler Bass wrote a prayer which she included in her book, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.
The basic premise of the book is that even though there are reasons not to feel grateful, gratitude is the defiance of hope in the face of fear. Gratitude gives each of us the possibility of living peaceably and justly.
I close with Butler’s prayer and my wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving holiday; however you celebrate it.
God, there are days we do not feel grateful. When we are anxious or angry. When we are alone. When we do not understand what is happening in the world, or with our neighbors.
We struggle to feel grateful.
But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude. We choose to accept life as a gift from you, from the unfolding work of all creation. We choose to be grateful for the earth from which our food comes; for the water that gives life; and for the air we all breathe.
We make the choice to see our ancestors, those who came before us, and their stories, as a continuing gift of wisdom for us today. We choose to see our families and friends with new eyes, appreciating them for who they are, and be thankful for our homes whether humble or grand. We will be grateful for our neighbors, no matter how they voted or how much we feel hurt by them. We choose to see the whole planet as our shared commons, the public stage of the future of humankind and creation.
God, this Thanksgiving, we do not give thanks. We choose it.
And we will make thanks, with strong hands and courageous hearts. When we see your sacred generosity, we become aware that we live in an infinite circle of gratitude. That we all are guests at a hospitable table around which gifts are passed and received. We will not let anything opposed to love take over this table. Instead, we choose to see grace, free and unmerited love, the giftedness of life everywhere, as the tender web of all creation. In this choosing, and in the making, we will pass gratitude onto the world.
Thus, with you, and with all those gathered here, we pledge to make thanks. And we ask you to strengthen us in this resolve. Here, now, and into the future. Around this table. Around the table of our nation. Around the table of the earth.
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P. S. There will be no post on Friday. However, I hope to post shorter, more frequent reflections during Advent. The operative word is HOPE. Regular readers know that I often fall short of even my own expectations. Blessings!