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Finding a Time and a Reason to Give Thanks
Deborah Davis-Johnson, pastor, Williston-Immanuel United Church, Portland, Maine
“He had lost a son many years before, the boy barely more than a toddler when he died. Now another son was dead, and grief was heavily upon him. His wife was emotionally troubled, and his subordinates were convinced that he was out of his depth and that they could do better job. His country had split along a ragged seam of geography and race.” (Leonard Pitts, as quoted in Portland Press Herald)
It was against that backdrop that Abraham Lincoln decided to say thank you. He issued a proclamation making the fourth Thursday in November a day of national gratitude. And today, 150 years later, it still is.
A man in the midst of profound grief made a statement of profound gratitude. Lincoln was a religiously ambivalent man who believed himself a tool in the hands of God; a man who, with good reason to shake an angry fist at God, asked his nation instead to give God thanks.
Our nation today is still divided by so much, including demography, sexual orientation, religion and race. But at least on one day a year we are called to remember that there is within humanity a need and an ability to reconcile, and to focus on a greater whole.
“With malice toward none,” Lincoln said. “With charity for all…” A month later, he would die due to an assassin’s bullet.
150 years later we still live in a time that is too often peppered with violence and killings, individuals seeking to have a voice and not finding a way to be heard, with often-loud contradictions striving to out scream one another.
And yet we call all to celebrate Thanksgiving—to come together with family, friends, neighbors, strangers to share a meal and be grateful for life itself. We invite folks who are new to our country to celebrate this inclusive-of-all-religions holiday. On this day we honor the practice of gratitude—hoping and praying that it might just spread and gain warmth and power in the days following.