November Meditation ~ Giving Thanks . . .
I do not know if the seasons remember their history or if the days and nights by which we count time remember their own passing. I do not know if the oak tree remembers its planting or if the pine remembers its slow climb toward sun and stars. . . . I do not know if the air remembers November or if the night remembers the moon. I do not know if the earth remembers the flowers from last spring or if the evergreen remembers that it shall stay so. Perhaps that is the reason for our births -- to be the memory for creation. Perhaps salvation is something very different than anyone ever expected. Perhaps this will be the only question we will have to answer: "What can you tell me about November?" ~ Burton D. Carley ~
Memory is vital to human life. The Scriptures make memory central to our faith. We are continuously called to remember the story of our ancestors of faith and their journey of transformation. This week, we remember the courageous initiatives of the people we call Pilgrims, and join with all in our past and present to give expressions of gratitude through ritual for all our blessings over the past year. We gather “to be memory for creation” and join with the many others throughout our country this week to remember, to celebrate and to give thanks.
Let us remember briefly the story of the Pilgrims, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America, and who were fleeing religious persecution in their country of England. At first they sailed to Holland to seek religious freedom. Not satisfied with what they experienced, they set sail on the Mayflower in September of 1620. There were 44 Pilgrims aboard who called themselves the “Saints,” and 66 others, whom they called the “Strangers.” The trip took 65 days.
When we hear the word Pilgrim, we may possibly think of grim-faced people wearing black and white clothing with pointed collars and large buckles. In fact, the “Pilgrims” weren’t really pilgrims at all. The word pilgrim refers to someone who travels a great distance to a special or sacred place for religious reasons. But the people who came on the Mayflower and settled on the site of modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts didn’t come just for religious reasons. Mainly, they came for economic ones – to build a better life for themselves and their families.
The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and sleet were exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement. The spring brought welcomed warmer weather, their health improved, but many had died during the long winter. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less than 50 survived the first winter. The harvest in the fall was very successful and the Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter and they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. In that year of 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. The colonists celebrated it as a traditional English harvest feast, to which they invited the local Wampanoag Indians.
This week, we are carrying on a tradition that goes back at least to the time of Abraham Lincoln, setting aside a Thursday late in November as a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. During the Civil War, President Lincoln, looking for ways to unite the nation, proclaimed in 1863 that the last Thursday in November would be a day of thanksgiving. And yet, in 1941, Franklin Roosevelt, seeking to lengthen the Christmas shopping season, proclaimed Thanksgiving the third Thursday in November. However, controversy followed and Congress passed a resolution decreeing that the fourth Thursday shall be Thanksgiving.
Let us remember that Thanksgiving is rooted in remembering. The ancient monk Cassian has a wonderful descriptive phrase for our memory. He calls it the “jar of the heart.” We can open this jar anytime and take in the rich memory of the past. As Christians, we are a people of memory; we are called to remember. Remembering is very important in our faith journey. Our memory of God's grace and faithfulness in the past continues to provide spiritual nourishment long after the event itself is over. Remembering becomes the source of our strength which sustains us even in the midst of suffering; it "enables us to see our difficulty in a new context and thereby find the comfort and the courage to live it." (Kidd, 24)
May the “jar of our hearts” never become empty of wonderful memories – for it is written “thanksgiving unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denials into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity . . . it turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Thanksgiving makes sense of our past; brings peace for today and creates vision for tomorrow.” (Melodie Beattie)
What will you remember from this November?