Thursday, November 23, 2017

giving thanks freely

For Americans, today is Thanksgiving Day.

Of course, for all of us each day should be a day we give thanks for the wonders we enjoy in life.

While reading the newspaper yesterday, I ran across a prayer that captured my feelings about Thanksgiving. Or, more accurately, about thanksgiving. The act of giving thanks.

Like many of these pithy pieces, the prayer is attributed to several sources -- many of them mercenarily plagiaristic. The most credible tale is that it is from the pen of Abigail Van Buren's mother.

It goes like this:

O, heavenly Father: We thank thee for food and remember the hungry.
We thank thee for health and remember the sick.
We thank thee for friends and remember the friendless.
We thank thee for freedom and remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service,
that thy gifts to us may be used for others. Amen.
The liturgical parallel construction helps lend an air of authority to the piece. Food: the hungry. Health: the sick. Friends: the friendless. Freedom: the enslaved. Along with that peppering of Quakerish thees. In form, it is a great prayer.

But that is not its compelling power to me. The prayer is actually a call to individual action.

In his book Prayer, Phillip Yancey pointed out that if you sincerely care enough about something that you pray to God for help, you had best be prepared God's response to you may be: "What are you going to do about it?" After all, prayers are communication with God. And softened hearts should be prepared to share all of the resources God has given us.

A core tenet of the Christian faith is that we do not own the material goods God has allowed us. We are merely the stewards of that bounty. It is our responsibility to see that the resources are used to better the lot of our fellow travelers.

To do that, we need to be aware where our food, friends, family, and freedom come from. That is why the usual blessing on Thanksgiving centers around those items we treasure most.

But being thankful for what we have also reminds us that there are others who lack those same blessings. Acknowledging that fact is merely a first step, though.

For me, the core of the prayer is in the last line: "May these remembrances stir us to service, that they gifts to us may be used for others." That call to stewardship is what true thanksgiving is all about.

The businessman who invests his capital to create jobs for others. The neighbor who helps a young boy learn to play the piano. The church that delivers food bags to the poor.

And certainly the individuals who spend the time to get to truly know people around them -- building relationships that almost always provide far more value than any material goods. Especially, to the friendless.

As for me, I am going to join a group of tourists and expatriates at a Thanksgiving dinner this evening. I find it a bit ironic that on a day when we should be being thankful in our community, we gather together like British bureaucrats in the Raj.

But it is only a dinner. A mere hour out of the day. And, even there, we can be thankful for what we have and what we will share.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

May the coming year offer each day as an opportunity to share God's gifts with those around you. 

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