Barbara Laymon

Praying and blogging along the way

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2011

Tags: Prayer

We have a tradition in my family at Thanksgiving of going around the table and saying something we are thankful for. I used to really enjoy this custom and I still wouldn’t stop it. But lately, something about it has really started to trouble me. Putting aside the outlier years – the tough years where everything has gone wrong and the great years where there have been some real joys to celebrate – it’s the in-between years, which are most years, that really make me stop and wonder: exactly what is going on here?
We go around the table and everyone tries so hard to say something kind, and grateful, and yet one can tell that all is not well. That one person is happier than others. That one person seems a little sheepish somehow. That one person’s voice might be a little too determined when announcing the always popular “I’m thankful for my family.” That one person’s voice might betray some regrets about how her year has gone.
And so somehow Thanksgiving falls victim to this human tendency to make everything about us. About how our year has gone. About our relative fortune or lack of it and the unfairness of it all. Isn’t thanksgiving for everyone? Aren’t we all equally blessed? This is the kind of thing that bothers me. Not that I want to stop our little Thanksgiving custom itself – for one thing, that wouldn’t solve anything.
What I needed was a new perspective – a fresh way to think about Thanksgiving day. I began to cast about in my mind for some alternative. Something straightforward. Accessible. And then I remembered a prayer to use at Thanksgiving.
Now there was a time in my life when I didn’t like this prayer. It’s an optional part of the morning prayer service, and late in the service, and by the time we got to it, I always hoped that the priest would skip it. It seemed like it took forever to read. Some of you may have already guessed the prayer I’m talking about. Yes – the prayer of General Thanksgiving. I used to think it was too long, but now I’m a big fan. I would like to share a few phrases from it here.

Notice how it begins… Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants… We your unworthy servants… to me, it is important in a prayer of thanksgiving to begin this way. To me, in this context it’s not about sin. It is a way of setting up from the very beginning that we are giving thanks for things that are undeserved, that we did not earn.
Similarly, the tone is set very early in lines 3-4... for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all whom you have made. In a sense, we are humankind’s representatives whenever we pray, thanking God on behalf of everyone. And for what? This is the great thing about this prayer. It is a thanksgiving for God’s goodness and loving kindness, which has been poured out to everyone.
Now the next part takes a sidestep… We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. This is a little like the conversation around the Thanksgiving table. It is the Anglican liturgical, tasteful thank-you note to God, if you will, and we would indeed be poorer if we did not acknowledge to God and one another the many blessings of this life that we, in particular, have to be grateful for.
But the next sentence comes back around to things that everyone can be thankful for… “We bless you … above all…” – and here are listed three things.
1. Your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ – We celebrate a God who came to earth to redeem all things. Our Bible says that ‘he died not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world.’ God loves each of us, in our humanness. Some of us have good memories of a television show called Mr. Rogers – who liked us just the way we are. So much more, God tells us 1000 times over: We do not have to sit at the thanksgiving table and feel bad about anything. God loves us, God is at work creatively redeeming every mistake that we and every human ever made. I like to think that it gives God something challenging to do.
2. The means of grace. The outward and visible signs of God’s love for us, such as baptism and communion, are indeed ways of receiving comfort, strength and forgiveness. And there are more means of grace. The support that is shared in this community. The understanding that I can see in the eyes of my family who love me in spite of all my flaws. The beauty of the sunrise over eastern market. The fun of playing with a toddler. God’s grace is abundant, free, everywhere, and here for the taking.
3. The hope of glory. We have hope in a world to come. More than that, we have hope of seeing a different reality in the present. We have hope that all the fabric of our lives is already being sown together like our lovely quilt in the parish hall, making something more beautiful than we can even imagine now.
My grandmother used to quilt, and she would begin with our old clothes – we would take them to her in a paper bag every summer, and a year or two later, someone would get a quilt. And maybe that’s how to think about the sharing of how our lives have gone around the Thanksgiving table. We offer our thanksgiving for our lives, such as they are, like our old tattered clothes, with faith and confidence that God treasures them and is doing something beautiful with them.
The most amazing thing is that we have been called to be a part of this work – that we are in way co-quilters with God, engaged in seeing that God’s kingdom comes on earth. And that is how the prayer closes – by praying that we can act according to this worldview. Truly as God’s people we have much to be thankful for, in all times and in all places, and much good news to share with the world. And so if you would, join me in saying the prayer of general thanksgiving…