I have always liked Thanksgiving.
I know its origins are dubious. I cringe a little when I think about the construction paper American Indian costumes and the happy story I learned as a child about that first Thanksgiving. I cringe a little more when I read about people missing their holiday meal so they can work at retail jobs where customers trample one another at the store’s entrance to get in and buy things. I don’t understand this, I have to confess. I have never been in such a hurry to buy anything in my life.
But even if the mythology of Thanksgiving is a little suspect and the current traditions can be a little crass, I like Thanksgiving because I cannot dislike a day dedicated to feeling thankful.
My first Thanksgivings were spent at the farmhouse where my mother grew up. If I had to put my finger on the moment that made it Thanksgiving, I would say it happened in the stillness — after all the food had been piled onto the big dining room table, and grandma (for just a moment) had her apron off, and the cousins (for just a moment) had been herded together into some sort of group, and everyone (for the one and only time all day) had fallen more or less quiet. Then we would sing the blessing. My mother’s family had a lot of good singers in it, sisters who played the piano and sang harmony in church. And so someone, an aunt I am sure, would begin:
“Be present at our table, Lord.” We didn’t ask for help, or intercession or forgiveness. We just asked the God we believed in to be there with us.
“Be here and everywhere adored.” And not just with us. We asked for God’s presence to be everywhere it was welcomed.
“These mercies bless and grant that we…” We asked for all this abundance to be blessed — everything on our table and in our hearts, and everyone standing there beside us, singing in the farmhouse. Then, in my family, we concluded:
“May strengthened for Thy service be.” I have since learned there are several ways to finish this prayer. The more common ending is: “May live in fellowship with Thee.” Some families sing, “May feast in Paradise with Thee.”
But my mother’s family was a Swedish farming family and we asked for strength to keep on working. Feasting in Paradise might have been fine for some, but that was a little more than any of us could imagine. Asking for strength so we could keep on doing what we had been doing seemed like a pretty safe bet and, perhaps, not too much to ask.
Then we sang “Amen,” and we ate. There were many more people than chairs, so the cousins sat on the stairway, and the aunts squeezed side by side on the couch, and some uncles ate standing up — despite my grandmother’s repeated warnings that this would lead to fat feet. And the table would be filled with enough pies to nearly cover its surface, served with whipped cream and weak coffee. And a cold wind would rattle the last stubborn leaves hanging on the trees, reminding us that colder days were ahead.
And so, even though I am many miles away from my family and years away from that farmhouse, I am going to sing today.
“Be present at our table, Lord,
Be here and everywhere adored.
These mercies bless and grant that we
May strengthened for Thy service be.”
Because it’s a simple request, and a good one.
Till next time,
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