Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. The change in the weather, the crisp feel in the air, the colors of Fall leaves, the warmth of family and friends all remind me about the good things in life that deserve our thanks and praise. One of the traditions that I remember that also marked Thanksgiving was the service at church on Thanksgiving Day.
First Congregational Church in Portland, Or would hold a morning service on Thanksgiving Day. Several parishioners would be dressed in attire that would be fitting of New England Pilgrim settlers. The minister would lead this procession of pilgrims as they marched around the Portland Park Blocks. I always wondered what the homeless people thought about seeing all of these church members marching around looking like they stepped out of the seventeenth century.
During the worship service, there would always be a reading of William Bradford's Journal regarding the First Thanksgiving in (1621). The description in William Bradford's journal describes how the Pilgrims were able to store resources for the winter and how they were also able to share a feast with their Native American neighbors. This semi-idyllic picture does not negate what will later take place in American history regarding how the United States government ill-treated the Native Americans.
The Pilgrim way of life encouraged simplicity. Men and women wore somber colored clothing. They attended worship services in a "meeting house " and not in a church and there were a lot of sermons, some lasting three hours. www.saburchill.com/history/events/009.html As a minister, I have been always sensitive to preaching no more than fifteen minutes. After that time ,the minds of your listeners will wander and their bodies will become fidgety.
The Pilgrims also encouraged one another to be civic minded and to be engaged in the community. This was probably essential for them given that they were striving to survive in a new land with few resources. After Sunday services, people in the Pilgrim community would discuss politics, engage in social and other moral discourse. This is something that I think would benefit a lot of people in the 21ST century, to feel like they are connected to your community.
My friends in the Unitarian-Universalist Association still practice this tradition. After Sunday services, they will normally retreat to a restaurant for lunch and they will engage in very hearty debate about economic, social and political issues and policy. This type of engagement is critical for them as a part of their identity.
MIT Philosopher Kieran Setiya has observed:
"When we ask ourselves if we should act morally, we are not really making a calculus about a detached set of ethical principles; rather, those decisions are intimately connected to what we believe to be the virtues of character we already possess, such as beneficence and generosity. " Good thinkingMIT News
Today, we recognize that with our digital technology, a lot of people spend an enormous amount of time looking at the screen on their phones. I recently observed at a restaurant where a woman was spending more time looking at the screen on her phone than she was looking at the menu , let alone looking at the people with whom she was dining.
What can we be thankful for now ? First, there is the blessing that we are all still alive. The challenges we face as a civilization between global warming and our work schedules which are killing us indicate that we need to be thankful regarding our own inner fortitude to carry on and live. Second, we need to be thankful that we can love others. Many people will note how lonely they feel and how others will not reach out to them. There is truth in this observation. We have become a culture that has become more insular and more isolative, staying in our homes watching our flat screen televisions and looking at our computer screens. Yet we can choose to reach out to others in love. This can be experienced in churches and in other houses of worship, in clubs and organizations, etc. Third, we need to be thankful that we can share of our resources with one another. The adage that " those who have the most toys wins" is not satisfying for the long haul. There is the desire among human beings to be able to experience something more, to experience something transcendent.
May this season of Thanksgiving be a time in which we can learn from the Pilgrim way of life. How we can become grateful and accepting of life and one another and how we can stay connected as communities working together to improve the lives of all.
May it be so.