Thanksgiving Day may be our least corrupt holiday in the United States. It is hard to make giving thanks into much of a spectacle, as one can do with Halloween, Christmas, or even Easter. There is somewhere in the cracks of civil religion and its twin culture religion an allowance for thanksgiving as a worthy thing to do.
I am not sure what they do with Thanksgiving who do not have a god to thank. Perhaps it is sufficient simply to take note of one's good fortunes and to rejoice that one is lucky. But for those who have any semblance of belief in God, thanksgiving poses no problem. For even if our lives are clogged and pent with an abundance of misfortune, without much trouble we can find something somewhere that has come our way through no particular merit of our own, through no heroism or talent or ability that we have exercised, some little or big something for which we can take no credit. Instinctively we want to say something like, "Wow!" or maybe even "Thank God."
Thanksgiving began in a world of agriculture, an industry that few people in modern America engage in--certainly not in the sense of the cultures in which it arose. Harvest festivals, like planting, engendered rituals consisting of prayers, chants, dances, and other acts. When life depends upon good weather, rodent control, a minimum of mildew and rot, managing various pests, not to mention having enough to plant and not having to eat seeds instead of planting them, then it stands to reason that one might want to curry favor with the gods in charge of the universe to get some help in a daunting task. And when there is anything to harvest at all, much less an abundance, thanksgiving seems somehow too appropriate to have to explain.
Thanksgiving is not a situational activity, however, so much as it is a way of life. It is a state of mind and soul. One does not have to live on the margins of planet earth in order to be thankful--nor does one have to break records of good fortune in order to find a reason for Thanksgiving. Rather, the thankful heart is not preoccupied with counting blessings, but in noticing the benefit in all things. The thankful heart embraces not only good fortune but misfortune as well, knowing that even those things which cause us inconvenience or even grief can be the very agents of growth. The truly thankful heart accepts whatever comes as exactly what it needs.
Can one be thankful amidst suffering? Can we be thankful even when our souls are grieving or in pain? Can we be thankful even if, God forbid, we should be slowly starving to death or slipping out of this world sped along by deprivation or cruelty? You will never know the answer to that unless and until you get to the edge and find out there in the direst of straights you might ever imagine that you have it in you to give thanks even in those things and for those things. You do not want to go there and neither do I. But it is certain that in the most abject of circumstances one can find it possible to be thankful only if one has practiced being thankful over and over again. In hard times and in good, in depression as well as in joy, we can open our minds and hearts to the possibility that in the leanest of years there is something to sustain us; in the darkest night, there is some angel bearing us up until the dawn; in the strangest of countries, a companion who knows and charts our way; on the bleakest day, the gift of becoming.
To live like that is to live eucharistically, thankfully. It is to lift up our hearts to the Lord of Life, not measuring our blessings, but rejoicing in all things. Only the loss of such a God could ring the curtain down on thanksgiving. And the God whose hand is open wide to fill all creatures with plenteousness, is so lasting, so true, so sure, so dependable that you can actually believe God's promise: I will be their God and they will be my children and I myself will be with them.
Could we ask for more?