As we approach Thanksgiving, I am drawn to one of my favorite lines in Scripture: “I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well” (Psalm 139, verse 13).
Thanksgiving is a day set aside to take an inventory of the wonder of God’s works, and to lift them up in gratitude. Thanksgiving is perhaps the most inclusive holiday of the year, given that the day is not the province of any religious tradition. Everyone can give thanks.
What is perhaps most precious for me about Thanksgiving is that it is perhaps the only true sabbath we have as a culture. Except for those who cook or play football, nearly everything shuts down. We are given space for rest, reflection and thanksgiving. It is a day of margin, which is the space between the load we carry and the opportunity to be free.
Most of us are overloaded. If not by work, then by worry. Overloaded is not having time to finish a book on stress; margin is reading it twice. Overload is exhaustion; margin is energy. Overload is hurry; margin is calm. Overload is the disease of our time; margin is the cure.
Thanksgiving is a day of margin – and when we live into that margin, we are invited into gratitude. Gratitude can happen when we are present to the present, which is simple but not easy. Many of us are burdened by the past and anxious about the future, and find it difficult to find space in the present. Thanksgiving gives us that opportunity.
Jesus was a master of the margin. No matter how busy or pressured he was, he was always able to be present to the present. And gratitude flowed from that – and his following grew as people learned to live into a gratitude that was life transforming.
Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to live into a practice of thanksgiving that extends beyond the holiday. I can suggest two ways, one personal and one communal. The personal involves giving. Giving out of abundance; giving in thanks that we know well God’s works. Giving as a transformational activity, which opens up the heart and the soul, as opposed to a transactional enterprise, which limits giving to meeting an obligation or paying one’s dues. And which keeps us contained in the culturally sanctioned notion of scarcity.
The communal involves our community prayer. Specifically, the Prayers of the People that takes place in every church every Sunday. As a Rector of a church I realized the opportunity and challenge of calling the congregation into community prayer. And for the past eleven years as bishop that challenge and opportunity has been reinforced as I visit the congregations of the diocese. Eucharist literally means thanksgiving; it is an expression of God’s thanks to and for us. The Prayers of the People gives the community the opportunity to express its thanks for God’s mercy and blessing. Space can be found in the prayers of the people for thanks – for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, to be sure, but also for the neighborhood, the local school play, a community initiative, whatever.
It is a discipline that deepens relationships, broadens horizons, develops networks – and reinforces the gratitude that we are marvelously made.