As we rest along our journey we are pleased to be met by Rev. Lou Kavar who is reflecting on how we can regain the original sense of the holiday of thanksgiving by counting our blessings.
It’s one of those memories that remains very clear in my mind. I must have been only eight or nine years old at the time. I lay in bed one evening, all snug and warm under the blankets. Before going to sleep, I counted them one by one. I don’t remember the total number, but I’m pretty sure that I ran out of fingers and toes. Just like my teacher told us to do that day before school recessed for the long holiday weekend, I went to sleep counting all my blessings and the things for which I had reason to be thankful.
Giving thanks for what we have received. That is the purpose of the holiday we celebrate. It is only the United States and Canada which have a holiday dedicated to “thanks giving.” We all know that this celebration is traced to the harvest feast celebrated by the Pilgrims, a celebration they learned from their Native American neighbors in the 1600’s.
After a few horrible years of barely surviving in their new home, with many dying in the harsh New England climate, the colonists slowly learned to adapt to their new environment. They watched how their Native neighbors planted the three sisters with care: corn, beans, and squash. They adapted to hunting and preserving new kinds of game and learned from painful experience what was necessary to survive in the short growing season and the long, cold winters. Through the tough lessons life taught them, they learned to give thanks.
While images of that first Thanksgiving, with Pilgrims and Indians gathered around one table, are little more than a poetic re-telling of actual events, the Pilgrims seemed to have learned an important lesson from the first residents of their new home: the communal nature of giving thanks.
In most Native American cultures, following a good harvest or a profitable hunt, a village feast occurred. All shared equally in the feast, no matter what role one played in providing the meal. It was unthinkable to not share the bounty of the harvest or hunt, because the bounty was truly a gift received. Recognizing the generosity of the land and the four-legged and winged creatures who gave their lives to sustain human life, Native villages knew they had much to be thankful for.
As human life has moved away from this simple dependence of living on Mother Earth, we have lost this original sense of Thanksgiving. Few of us have experienced life as lived in a balance, not being sure who would live through the winter, hoping that the harvest would be sufficient to feed our families, or whether our skills as hunters would enable us to bring home the bacon, or turkey, or venison. The thanks given in these celebrations were thanks to have made it through when the odds seemed so great and positive outcomes seemed so unclear.
While the lessons of thanksgiving I was taught as a child helped me understand the importance of this feast, the tradition of giving thanks is much richer than remembering our momentary successes in life. The tradition of giving thanks is an act of remembering that our lives are dependent on forces beyond us. Yes, each of us is here today because of a gracious design of life that provides the opportunity for our survival. It is that foundational realization that is the cause of our giving thanks.
From this perspective, some of us can find reason to be truly thankful on this holiday, thankful for being able to make it through the hurdles of life. There are those among us who would not be with us if it weren’t for the advances in treatment of HIV/AIDS, cancers, and other serious health conditions. There are others who have come close to choosing death because they felt such deep despair because family and friends were not accept them for the people they were created to be. There are those who have experienced fear and dread from violence at home, school and in our streets. There are still others who are thankful for the generosity of unknown benefactors who provide food and shelter from the cold.
As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, let us truly be thankful for the opportunity to be here and celebrate the feast. It is indeed a gracious gift.
Lou Kavar is an author, psychologist, and ordained minister whose work focuses on the integration of spirituality and psychology. The author of seven books, this excerpt was taken from Stumbling Into Life’s Lessons: Reflections on the Spiritual Journey. You can learn more about Lou and read his weekly blog by visiting his web site: www.loukavar.com