So on Thanksgiving, at least here in Canada, what do talk show hosts, Facebook posts, greeting cards, emails and the opening moments of phone calls have in common? “Happy Thanksgiving everyone!” To this chorus I add my own “Happy Thanksgiving” to all readers and sharers of this blog now almost twenty-five posts old. What started as a place to store images and text for sharing in other contexts, my Take Note! blog morphed into a space where I could test out various writing styles, from the Punch-like comic style of A. P. Herbert, to the musical commentary of The Gramophone and the photographic commentary of Freeman Patterson. I also honour Arthur Black in my attempts to set the record straight about Fortune Cookies and how to successfully unsubscribe from email lists. And of course, there is Juno in her own voice and world.
It’s hard to believe that eighteen months ago, then deep into my third major life depression I could barely assemble two sentences of original content in a row. On one particular Sunday morning my sermon contained almost no original material at all, constructed only through direct quotation of commentaries with other material from sermons of years past. For this change in mood, confidence and life, I remain most thankful.
Which returns me to my theme, Thanksgiving. Friends and colleagues alike express their thanks—for the beauty of creation, for the blessings of family and friendship, for the arts and creativity, for resilience and liberation, for financial comfort and the ability to follow their dreams—all most beautifully and truthfully. I, thankfully, can do the same but do find my words sometimes a bit hollow. It feels like the sentiments of some American politicians who offer “hopes and prayers” and “God bless America” at every turn. Canadians are not immune to such utterances, though more subtle about it.
Speaking personally, and in no way critiquing the thankful expressions of others, what gives gravitas to my own thankful words? For an answer I turn to my experience of the Christian tradition, first to the psalms, and next to the liturgy of the Church.
Thomas Barnett renders Psalm 116:17 as: “To you I offer thanksgiving sacrifice” (Songs for the Holy One). In common parlance the two words Thanksgiving and sacrifice don’t fit well together. Surely they refer to two totally different actions. For faithful Jews in Jesus’ day however, sacrifice was how the faithful remained in good and right relationship with their Creator, God. One paved the way for the other, and for the Jews, who know so much sacrifice through history and tradition, the expression of thanksgiving is simply a symptom, better manifestation of gratitude for not only survival, but blessing.
In our Canadian Anglican Eucharistic rites we hear of thanksgiving every time we gather to share bread and wine, in Eucharistic praise as Jesus commended and instructed. No less so in words like: We offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you, Lord of all (Eucharistic Prayer 3 Book of Alternative Services)
While our rite does recall Jewish temple practices our engagement is different. Certainly, we can consider all of life as a sacrifice, an offering of praise. No animal or any other things must be slaughtered; our sacrifice is more personal and unique. We can push things further, where life and love are expressions and embodiment of vulnerability (Brené Brown). Personally, I have always found life to be a struggle. The reasons are many including disability, stubbornness and circumstance. I could name many instances in my own life where a particular struggle resulted in a most marvellous victory.
In 1977 I travelled to London in the UK to commence organ performance studies. I had a very inadequate preparation compared with my peers. I was however prepared to work extremely hard to justify my continuing studies. I wanted more than anything in the world to learn to play and perform the Prelude, Adagio and Chorale Variations by Maurice Durufle. The piece was far beyond my technical and musical abilities, but I soldiered on. I remember sitting in a particular studio on the fourth floor of the Royal College of Music, in tears knowing that I would not be able to meet my objective–but then a day or so later, I did, so much so that it became part of my repertoire for many years. When visiting the college years later with my family I showed them that very room where my life changed. The memory made me smile, and thankful.
Struggle, sacrifice, resilience, and in the end delight and gratitude are part of a natural social and personal progression I urge and seek for everyone this thanksgiving. If only we could take such energy and apply it in the right places, with the right people, in the right way regarding social and ecological justice. If only the world and everyone in it could turn their energies (!) to resolving disputes around energy, land and water so the world would become healthy again. If only everyone could find their voice working towards a better sharing of the land between all cultures, here in BC especially with First Nations.
Certainly, this and every day is a wonderful time to say to one and all, “Happy Thanksgiving.” Enough said, talk is cheap! Now let’s live into a thankful reality; do things differently; adjust our hopes and dreams; and watch the world change.