Growing up in South Africa, we never had a day set aside for thanksgiving. Of course, we gave thanks in church for blessings great and small. We gave thanks for family and friends, for the gorgeous sunshine, the delicious foods the land yielded. We gave thanks in the dark days of apartheid for even the smallest strides toward peace and justice. But we never had a day set aside on which the nation could pause and give thanks.
It may come as no surprise to you, then, that this holiday is my favorite public holiday of the year. What a joy it is, when the last Thursday of November rolls around, to deliberately pause to give thanks. No matter what one’s circumstances may be, there’s always something to give thanks for – something far more enduring than the material pleasures Black Friday can buy. I love the way Henry David Thoreau expresses this sentiment in a letter to a friend in 1856: “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. … No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.”
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I also derive inspiration from a prayer written by Walter Rauschenbusch, an early 20th Century theologian and social activist, which I hope you will pray with me this year as we sit down for our Thanksgiving feasts:
O God, we thank you for this earth, our home;
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns forever and ever.
With a grateful heart,