Once a year, we Americans pause to give thanks. This is in honor of our ancestors who asked for a day of giving thanks because they had survived their first winter and because enough of them had survived the treacherous journey to form Plymouth Plantation, a small group of settlers led by William Bradford.
His personal history is a remarkable record of the survival of a few. It records that over 30 men, women and children died on board ship. It records how devastating was the first winter, and it records the kindness of Native Americans, who taught them to plant corn and hunt wild turkey. It is because they were thankful — in spite of it all — that we celebrate this day, a day to look to our Creator, to be thankful in spite of our woes.
How can we be thankful when so many problems occupy our minds? I think it’s because God gave us ways to look at our problems and see them and see beyond the — to look up, and look out, and look at within. It is our spirits that can soar in spite of our woes. That’s what the Pilgrims knew after losing half their families on the way to the “Promised Land,” when they survived one winter, just one, and still paused to offer thanks.
Even in the midst of COVID-19, we are given reminders. They are in our deepest faith and in the world around. Like the birds of the air, like the seasons of the year, those who take time to pray, we can let go of anxieties enough to remember that we are created by One Who called the worlds into being.
Words of thanksgiving come to us from the long heritage of faith. Words of people who worshipped on mountaintops, who lived in the deserts, who saw life and death first-hand, people who heard Jesus say:
“Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the birds of the air. Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him…”
It is a privilege to celebrate this day, where we can look up to God and look out at each other, and look to the long stretch of Time. It is a privilege to know that giving thanks is a choice, even in the hardest times.
It is a privilege, even in the midst of COVID-19, to look at the gifts of life which are at our fingertips, and which are there, always. It is a privilege to join with others throughout the experience of Americans, from the Pilgrims to Civil War veterans, to firefighters who saved our mountain homes, to all those who acted in the promise of gifts to be received…from a God beyond us.
May we stand in gratefulness for the Power who saves us from ourselves, the God Who is beyond and within our human pain. And, may our thankfulness in this season teach us of all seasons when God gave us life…in spite of.
Rev. Dr. Sally Palmer, former pastor at St. Paul’s and retired Religion Professor from the University of Wyoming, and active director of Wyoming Contemplative In-Reach.