November 26, 2009
Through the grand tapestry of our nation’s history with its scenes of storm-covered battlefields and families united in peace runs the golden thread of thanksgiving. The narrative of our national identity can never be told without the word “thanksgiving.” In 1623, the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians celebrated with song and dance an abundant harvest after a year of struggle and want. Ever after, in times of plenty and times of want, others have joined their voice in thanksgiving.
During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress suggested an annual day of national thanksgiving. Our first President, George Washington, responded to their request. He set aside November 26, 1790 as a day of official thanksgiving “for the many single favors of Almighty God.” He said, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and power...”
In 1863, with the Civil War drenching our nation’s soil in blood, President Abraham Lincoln not only issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but also a Proclamation for a Thanksgiving Day. Even in the midst of sorrow, he reminded the nation of “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.” He stated that “these great things… are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us with anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
Since the days of Lincoln, every President has issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. No President has forgotten this solemn duty. In 1939, President Roosevelt finally set the date for Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November; and, Congress approved this in 1941. Thus, generation after generation has been joined together with the golden thread of “giving thanks.”
Today, the discordant notes of divergent political views and partisan conflict on every issue from health care and economics to war and the very sanctity of life are loudly sounded in the public square. But Thanksgiving Day is a day to let the cacophony of disagreement fall silent before the duty to give thanks. We cannot take for granted the rich harvest of freedom that we have already reaped and now enjoy. On this side of eternity, there will never be a perfect society with each table laden with goods and no one left behind. Even as we struggle to keep America faithful to the ideals of our founders, we give thanks.
On the university campus, in the media and in the corridors of politic power, secularism makes every effort to drive God from the public discussion. Yet, God has not, nor ever will, lose his dominion to science and technology. In the words of the English philosopher Mary Midgley, “Belief—or disbelief—in God is not a scientific opinion, a judgment about physical facts in the world. It is an element in something larger and more puzzling—our wider worldview, the set of background assumptions by which we make sense of our world as a whole.”
As Cathy Lynn Grossman and Anthony DeBarros of
USA TODAY report, “in survey after survey, most [Americans] say religion is important to them and its influence is growing.” In the midst of the brokenness and disorder of our world, Americans hold on tenaciously to belief in God. It is this common belief in God that weaves the golden thread of thanksgiving throughout our history, past and present. For where God is acknowledged, our moral compass can be set straight, and we have hope to improve our country so richly blessed in land and people. And, for this, we give thanks.