Now Thank We All Our God

I love Holidays: the Fourth of July with its parades, picnics, fireworks and reminders of our nation’s brave but modest beginning: Labor Day, the end of summer, a time to remember and be grateful for the hard work of many of our fathers who labored for long hours at difficult jobs. My father was a railroader, a fireman, and later, engineer, in the day of steam locomotives. My clear childhood memory is of him coming through the back door, filthy with coal dust and exhausted. Christmas, of course, with its beautiful traditions: Christmas trees, wreaths, brightly decorated homes, and the sheer, joyful excitement of children.

But over the years my favorite holiday has become Thanksgiving. In terms of commerce Thanksgiving can’t hold a candle to Halloween or Mother’s Day, not to mention Christmas/Hanukkah. There are just a few Thanksgiving cards on the bottom shelf at the drug store, no gifts to purchase, wrap and post, not many Thanksgiving cocktail parties and no seasonal music outside the churches. Thanksgiving is wonderful in its simplicity: a time to gather with family and dearest friends, to enjoy one another, and to share and savor an amazing meal complete with every family’s favorite dishes, and somewhere along the way to count our blessings and say thanks. Many families, including our own, when everyone is seated at table, precede the meal by each one saying, in a few words, what he or she is most grateful for. It is a wonderful, heart-felt experience and the very essence of the occasion.

Thanksgiving is the most American holiday. Harvest festivals are as old as the human race. Every culture has devised a way to celebrate the mysterious fertility of the earth, a bountiful harvest, and the guarantee that life will be possible for another year.

Our own Thanksgiving began with the Pilgrims, English men, women and children, seeking freedom to practice their religion, sojourned for a while in Holland and then set sail for the new world. It was September 6, 1620 when they embarked on the Mayflower, a small vessel about 100 feet long. There were 102 passengers on board, 20 to 30 sailors and two dogs. There were three pregnant women and two births during the voyage. Because of ocean currents they did not understand, the Gulf Stream, their speed was about 2 miles per hour. Conditions on board were dreadful. Three months later, nearing the coast of New England, the passengers assembled on the Mayflower deck to sign an agreement about how they would live in the New World. The Mayflower Compact is one of the great documents in Western history and an early expression of the radical notion of representative government. They named the safe harbor where they anchored, Plymouth and on December 20 began to construct a building. They called it Plymouth Plantation. And then they started to die. The harsh New England winter, the pitiful diet consisting of left over rations from the voyage – on some days only ten men were strong enough to work, left them weak and vulnerable. By springtime half of them were dead. Every family had lost someone that first winter.

They cleared land and a friendly native, Squanto, appeared and showed them how to plant and fertilize the rocky land. Somehow the crop succeeded. They had enough corn, squash, beans, peas to eat, and barley for beer. They learned to hunt and fish and that autumn, when the crops were in and 19 small huts secure, their Governor, William Bradford declared “a time to rejoice after a more special manner.” The meal, in addition to the vegetables they had grown, consisted of geese, duck, shellfish and five freshly killed deer brought by the 100 natives, led by Massasoit, who showed up for the celebration.

There probably was no turkey, (wild turkey are fast and notoriously hard to kill), no stuffing or cranberry sauce. What there was, was a profound sense of gratitude for life, for their survival, for hope for the future, for an amazingly fertile and productive world, and for strangers who became life-giving friends, and for one another.

The theologians, philosophers and poets know that the heart of every religion is gratitude. “O give thanks to the Lord for He is good” the Psalmist wrote and C.S. Lewis observed that grateful people were the happiest people he knew.

Thanksgiving 2018, nearly 400 years after that first Thanksgiving, remains a time to reflect, count our blessings and give thanks. The beloved hymn is a good start.

 

Now Thank we all our God, with heart and hand and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices,

Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

 

John M. Buchanan

Comments

  1. jack macmullan says:

    THANK YOU JOHN FOR CONTINUING TO PROVIDE ME WITH THE MESSAGES OF FAMILY AND LOVE. YOU CERTAINLY HELP US WITH OUR OWN FAMILY COMPASS. LOVE TO YOU AND YOUR SPECIAL FAMILY. COACH MAC

  2. Barbara FOUNTAIN says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. May all your days be blessed.

  3. Stephen Littell says:

    Thank you, John. Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving and holiday season!

  4. Thank you for the blessing of your wonderful writing.

  5. Evah Belle Newton says:

    Thank you, Johnk, for these words. I read all of your entries and love them all. I am 90 now, and am restricted in my activities, but still can follow things on my computer.
    Remember the old Volkswagon? I remember those years you were here at Bethany and our gourmet bunch with joy that Doyle and I were able to share those experiences with you and Sue.
    Thelma and I still keep in touch.
    Bless you for all you do.,
    Evah Belle Newton

  6. Thank you

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