NEW YORK (RNS) In the afterglow, I give thanks for Thanksgiving Day.
It might be our most spiritual holiday, dealing as it does with that most spiritual of experiences: feeling gratitude.
Despite the commercial drumbeat for the aptly named “Black Friday,” Thanksgiving Day itself tends to be about family, food and free time. On Facebook, people shared recipes for stuffing, answered questions posed by nervous first-time cooks, told stories about traveling to be with family, and flooded the web with photos of people just being together.
I realize that those are ambiguous realities. Not everyone is blessed with healthy families, not everyone has enough food. Many work hard to prepare food and cheer for others to enjoy. But the promise is there — and unlike the promise of material hyperabundance that has come to dominate Christmas, the promise of Thanksgiving Day seems worth pursuing and attainable.
In the small corner I inhabit, we filled the house with warmth: turkey baking, potatoes boiling, my wife passing along her cooking wisdom to a new generation, logs burning, laughter flowing, and a new John Grisham novel on my iPad.
We did nothing remarkable, and yet we sampled the cornucopia that makes life matter: love, patience, giving to others.
As a national holiday, Thanksgiving Day is rooted in what should be our national mythology, namely, that before white Europeans waged war on natives occupying this amazing land, the two parties ate together in peace, thanking their respective gods for a harvest and for surviving a harsh winter.
Our national anthem probably should be “Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” and our national ideal should be “the song of harvest home.”
Images of Thanksgiving Day — from children's drawings of natives and pilgrims to Rockwell's paintings of families at table — are like images of Eden before the Fall. They convey the promise that God intended and the holy state that got lost when pride, avarice and fear turned people against each other.
Thanksgiving Day keeps coming around, keeps reminding us of what could be, keeps giving us tastes of what God wants for us. Thanksgiving Day speaks the bold truth that God isn't done with us. A world of warfare, terror, oppression, punitive starvation, and the idolatry of greed isn't what God wants.
The heart of worship is the offering, when we thank God for the harvest. The heart of family life, in my opinion, is table grace, when we thank God before eating.
When the harvest is meager, we turn to each other for sustenance. When the harvest is plentiful, we share it with others. In both instances, we discover the very truth that God knows but Mammon seeks to stifle — that we are a household of mutual dependence. Those who think themselves gloriously self-sufficient and beyond needing to share are as deluded as human beings can get.
The pictures we take on Thanksgiving Day show babies asleep on grandparents' shoulders, extended families laughing, food being passed around, people napping. Those are images of our yearnings. We will accept Christmas loot and year-end bonuses, but what we really desire is tenderness and love.
And there it is, nothing to buy, no store to enter, no line to endure, no marketing frenzy. Just a quiet word, “Here, I'll hold the baby for a while.”
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
KRE/AMB END EHRICH