From the Rector
Although the popular lore about Thanksgiving involves pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a harvest feast at Plymouth in 1621, the origin of the holiday we enjoy today actually has its origin in the relentless will of a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale.
For nearly four decades in the middle of the 19th century, Mrs. Hale waged a campaign to establish a day of thanksgiving in the nation. She wrote legislators, governors, and four different presidents, all to no avail. Finally, her plea for the nation to pause for a day of thanks came to Abraham Lincoln, who on October 3, 1863 declared a Day of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of November.
Think about the timing for a moment. Only a few weeks after making this proclamation, Lincoln would travel to Gettysburg to deliver his famous address commemorating the great battle that had occurred there three months prior. Union victory was still far from assured, and the war had already claimed the lives of tens of thousands. And yet, even in this fearsome hour, Lincoln entreated everyone to give thanks to the “Most High God” for the blessings of peace with other nations, fruitful harvests, expansion of mines and industry, and that God “hath remembered mercy.” He also asked that all people, even as they gave thanks, would “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” President Lincoln understood what Sarah Josepha Hale had long known to be true: that gratitude is a holy balm on the wounded soul, and it can lift our hearts up to God even in the most difficult circumstances.
In our own age of deep division and growing dread, when psychologists tell us our society is more anxious and fearful than any time in recorded history, we need Thanksgiving as much as ever. I’ve heard gratitude referred to as “spiritual angioplasty,” because it unclogs our hardened hearts. The act of pausing to give thanks for all we have – for people we love, for good things we enjoy, for the beauty of Creation – is as holy and important as anything else we do as Christians.
I implore you to take time this weekend, in addition to feasting with family and friends, to ponder all for which you are thankful. Reflect slowly and patiently on your life, and pray with gratitude to the God who loves you and has blessed you. If you’re looking for words to guide this exercise, I recommend the Litany of Thanksgiving on page 837 of The Book of Common Prayer. It’s a simple start, and I hope you will not hurry through it, as the longer we focus our hearts on giving thanks and the more we open our spirits to gratitude, just as Mrs. Hale knew 150 years ago, the sooner God will breathe healing and hope into souls,