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On Giving Thanks

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The general thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer reads:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Those of us who spend any amount of time on social media have run into the "feeling blessed" expression. This is not something that I wish to sneer at, but it is something that occasions a certain amount of head-scratching thought when one considers participating in it. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, there is a little smiley icon that you can attach to a Facebook status update in which you tell of some positive thing in your life for which you are thankful. The smiley icon has tiny words next to it that say, "Feeling blessed."

In and of itself, this is a good thing for Christians to do. The Bible tells us repeatedly to do all things with thanksgiving. The Psalms put it in the imperative again and again--"Give thanks unto Him, and bless His name." "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise." So does the Apostle Paul: "Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." "In everything give thanks."

So when someone on Facebook posts, "My beloved husband and children just brought me breakfast in bed, and the view outside my window is lovely" with a photo of the view and a little smiley that says, "Feeling blessed," how can one possibly demur?

And I don't. Not really. Indeed, to get critical about that would be to join the ranks of hipster snarkers who seem to get pleasure out of nothing but sipping latte whilst making fun of innocent evangelical expressions of piety. And I'd rather miss out on my turkey dinner for many-a year to come than even seem to be one of those.

But, though I do express thankfulness on social media, I haven't used the icon. A couple of tensions go into that. First, there's the worry about possibly looking or sounding smug, as though God has specially reached down and given me whatever it might be because...something. Because I deserve it? Second, there is the worry about people who are in painful or even dire circumstances. Even among the ranks of my Facebook friends (let alone Christians being crucified by ISIS), there are people suffering. What will it make someone who is on the edge of bankruptcy feel like if I post a picture of my new drapes? (I did, I confess, post a picture of new drapes recently. I'm not sure it made it any better that I didn't put a "feeling blessed" smiley next to it.)

When one is in the midst of ambivalent feelings about publicly counting one's blessings, the Prayer Book comes to the rescue. There is something about corporate thanksgiving that helps a great deal to remove all trace of smugness. Moreover, the authors of the BCP liturgical pieces knew a thing or two about balancing all considerations and creating a unified, dignified address to the Almighty. Look at the general thanksgiving. We begin by giving thanks that is both humble and hearty. We include in this, unashamedly, thanksgiving for "all the blessings of this life." But then we go on to say that we thank God above all for the spiritual blessings--for the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. We wrap up by admitting to God, and reminding ourselves, that much is required of those to whom much is given, that we need to walk before God in holiness all our days as a response to all His undeserved mercies toward us, both temporal and spiritual.

Another bit of relevant liturgy comes from the consecration of the Eucharist:

And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant that, by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ and through faith in his blood, we, and all thy whole church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him. And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice; yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Earlier, the priest has said, for all of us, "It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto thee, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God." Then the liturgy implicitly refers to that bounden duty of thanksgiving, acknowledges that we are unworthy to offer up to God any sacrifice (including our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving), but beseeches God to accept our duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses.

Nothing could be farther from smug. But at the same time, nothing could be farther from unaware of the need to give thanks.

The American Prayer Book contains many frank and unashamed prayers both asking and thanking God for temporal blessings. Viz.


Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew, we yield thee unfeigned thanks and praise for the return of seed-time and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of the fruits thereof, and for all the other blessings of thy merciful providence bestowed upon this nation and people....

And this:

We give thee humble thanks for this thy special bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness unto us, that our land may yield us her fruits of increase, to thy glory and our comfort.

For Rogation days:

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth; We beseech thee to pour forth thy blessing upon this land, and to give us a fruitful season; that we, constantly receiving thy bounty, may evermore give thanks unto thee in thy holy Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The secret to feeling blessed without feeling smug must lie somewhere in that phrase "humble thanks." If you simply hold the Prayer Book in your hands and flip through it and read at random, the atmosphere of (in the best sense) piety and true humility arises like incense. Most of the prayers in the "Thanksgivings" section are fairly specific: "For a child's recovery from sickness," "For a safe return from a journey," "The thanksgiving of women after childbirth," "For rain," and so forth. The picture is not of ease and comfort but rather of real human life, fraught with all its pains and perils. The one who prays these thanksgivings with full awareness is one who has turned to God in his deepest need and now turns to God with due relief and gratitude in the time of deliverance.

Finally, there is the opposite error to be avoided--the error of thinking that we have no right to give thanks or that the world is so bad that we must forever be solemn, worried, or filled with Weltschmerz. Those of us born with a less-than-sanguine nature are prone to this mistake.

We are teased out of such gloomy thoughts by many gleams of joy--the Scriptures and the liturgy not the least. Also, the beauty of nature, which, paradoxically (since that beauty itself is ephemeral), reminds us of things eternal beyond the frets and sorrows of this world.

When joy alights like a bird on a fence post
arrested in fragile flight,
do not frighten her away.

When she comes in the clutch of the heart
at the scent of the evening air
instinct with life and memory,
in the grey-blue of the sky at twilight,
in the sweep of the pine tree to the sky,

Do not say,
There are depths to be plumbed,
There are knots to be worried at.
I have no time for this.

Nor listen to the more insidious voice that lectures,
Death and disease roam the streets.
Pitiless murder with bloody sword unsheathed stalks all the ways of the world,
and beauty and innocence fall before him.
What right have I to be happy?

Rather stand still,
And say,

It is a gift.

To all our readers at What's Wrong With the World, and to my esteemed fellow contributors, a Happy Thanksgiving.

Comments (16)

Thanks for this lovely and practical meditation, Lydia. A wonderful Thanksgiving to you and yours!

We are teased out of such gloomy thoughts by many gleams of joy--the Scriptures and the liturgy not the least.

Indeed, we are told over and over, in the imperative voice, to rejoice:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4

Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just: praise becometh the upright. Ps. 33:1

Rejoice, ye just, in the Lord: and give praise to the remembrance of his holiness. Ps. 97:12

The Christian neither toils in gloom all his days, nor flits like a careless butterfly from light to light without a concern. Even in the midst of trials and tribulations endured patiently, he gives thanks to God and rejoices in His holy name. Thus did the pagans notice the Christians around them - they were joyful as well as serious, they were thankful even in hard times.

And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice; yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service;

I am a sinful man and unable to give thanks worthy of the Lord. It is my daily prayer that He might lift me up on His grace that I might become able to give thanks fitting to Him.

Rather stand still,
And say,
It is a gift.

This is my imagined reason for why the moment of now is called the present - because it is a gift. Few are able to fully cherish it as such, we so easily get lost in our anxieties about the future or past. Happy Thanksgiving.

This is my imagined reason for why the moment of now is called the present - because it is a gift.

I like it.

Lydia,

What a beautiful poem!!!

I like how you zoom in on the idea of 'humble thanks' -- I think that sense of grateful humility is indeed an excellent virtue for Christians to cultivate.

Happy Thanksgiving to the McGrews and to the rest of the gang at W4!

Thanks to Lydia for this. Happy Thanksgiving.

And thanks to my all fellow contributors for everything at W4, and to all of our commenters my thanks as well.

Nice image as well! I like images.

Happy Thanksgiving, to all our friends, for "the signal and manifold mercies," in Gen. Washington's words, that Our Lord has rendered unto us.

Happy thanksgiving again to all of you and thanks for your kind comments!

Happy Thanksgiving, Lydia, and thanks for this and so many other wonderful posts that fill us with good thoughts and draw us together. In thankfulness to God I have often drawn up lists, at least in my mind, of the many things for which I am thankful. Two recent book readings have taken me in a different direction this year. One book was about a survivor of the Cambodian genocide and the other about an expedition to Antarctica exactly 100 years ago. The expedition lost its ship and most everything else. Those stories made me wonder how many things could fall off my list, were I to lose them, and still leave me a grateful person. Yet I marvel at how good God has been to me (and I say that with all of your advisements in this post), for my list this year has not been shortened in the least. With Paul:

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret ⌊of being content⌋—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

May Saint Michael the Archangel cast Thanksgiving into Hell, along with the Protestant heresy it so ably represents. Amen. Never again will I spend the last Thursday of November in anything but a Catholic home. [Further trollish and inappropriate content deleted. LM]
RFGA, Ph.D.

I'm not sure if Mr. Allen is serious or not and if he is serious is just another interesting troll that this website seems to attract; but on the off chance that he might be just a tad bit honest, here are some historical details about Catholic thanksgivings that took place before the Pilgrims:

http://taylormarshall.com/2013/11/6-interesting-catholic-thanksgiving.html

Catholics have plenty to be thankful for -- even in the protestant United States!

I am just puzzled why someone who is as allergic to Protestants as Robert Allen would even remotely consider spending Thanksgiving with them. Why not spend it with good Catholics, like I have done every year since my birth? And - as Jeff hints - make sure to start the day with the Catholic giving thanks, the Eucharist, as we always do at my parish. (And, by the way, my parish church is always full on Thanksgiving, even though it is not a holy day of obligation nor otherwise played up. Of course, normally we have 5 masses a Sunday, and on Thanksgiving there is only one, so "full" is only 1/5 of the normal Sunday crowd. I feel like asking them "were not all 5 made clean? Where are the other 4? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God...? ")

This is a another sample of Robert's opinions:

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2014/07/exceptional_america.html#comment-293528

Dear Robert Allen,

There are many choice things I could say with regards to the comment you left on this site for this post, but why bother. Would you accept any fraternal correction I might care to offer? Would you consider it, reasonably, seriously, and with charity? I find this brand of Kamikaze posting to be pretty useless in convincing or convict your audience (you were trying to convince them that they were in error, no?). I find it particularly useless given the fact that the Catholic Church, who has the authority in liturgical matters, has a special liturgy on the books for the United States national holiday of Thanksgiving. Apparently, the Church believes that a Catholic may, with good conscience, celebrate such a national holiday not only with festivities, but with its most sacred liturgy.

As for the rest of your comment, well, I could say that I have rarely seen such a degree of well-crafted Feeneyism on display in recent years (well done, sir), but, then, that would be an uncharitable comment and I am trying to keep my temper in check. On a particular blog post where Catholics and Protestants tried, just for one minute, to unite in Thanksgiving for the many graces bestowed on them by the Lord of Heaven and Earth, in accord, I might mention with the document On Ecumenism from Vatican II, you wander in and stick your tongue out at them. You may have thought you were giving a witness to fraternal correction, but, apparently, you have not studied the subject enough, nor practiced it enough to know when and how to do it very well. Certainly, this was not the venue and most priests would have dispensed you from the obligation...but, you just had to do it, didn't you?

You know, I spent yesterday in a Catholic home - about twenty adults, kid, infants, married, single - all from the same family (how's that for being fertile and multiplying) - and do you know what they were doing? Apparently, to your mind, they were being heretics, because they were celebrating Thanksgiving, just like the Protestant household down the street.

I don't know how much you have suffered at the hands of a false ecumenism, but I know how much I have and you don't even come close to having the right to do what you did in coming in here and pronouncing the U. S. national holiday of Thanksgiving to be representative of a Protestant heresy, especially without even so much as an attempt to explain what you meant by that assertion. Nothing the Church has taught in 2000 years would say that a holiday set aside to give thanks to the Creator is heretical, even if done, as you believe, by heretics.

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians has a thing or two to say about thanksgiving (Phil 4: 4 - 8):

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand.
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Does your comment show forbearance? Does it contemplate the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, the lovely, the gracious? Is a national holiday of Thanksgiving not excellent? Is it not worthy of praise? Apparently, you were not thinking on these things.

You know, St. Francis DeSales converted 10,000 Calvinists by demonstrating charity in truth of theology, but also by charity in action. I might have given you a little leeway if you hadn't, implicitly, also insulted Catholics as well as Protestants, who in your definition are heretics, one and all. Many Catholics read this site. I suppose you consider them to uneducated in the subtle ways of Faith not to know how icky eating a meal with those Protestants is.

Spare me. May God grant that you not come by an appreciation of humility through suffering, but, rather, by careful thought and action, you may learn the fruits of a life of charity by being of service to all. Jesus ate with sinners. You know what they did? They thanked him. I guess you left your alter Christi card at home, yesterday. Please, forgive me for that rudeness, but, in my opinion, as I understand matters currently (being always subject to correction), you have earned it.

G. K. Chesterton, the spiritual godfather of this site argued on stage with the atheist G. B. Shaw about religion, politics, and life. Do you know what they did when they were finished? They went out to dinner, together. G. K. Chesterton's cause is up for canonization. I guess, by your definition, the Church is canonizing heretics, these day. If not, then go and do likewise.

The Chicken

My faith goes back to a time before there were Protestants, before there were Catholics, before there were denominations. I anchor in a time and place where we all wore just one name--that of Jesus. And we saw no need to be hyphenated-Christians, knowing that particular designations would divide us into groups instead of allowing us to be united as brothers and sisters. And we knew that pride and attendant exclusivism would find root in those man-made groupings until Jesus was removed as the Lord of all. I go back to a time when the Scriptures are authority, and if someone called for a pope and we found none in those Sacred Writings, we tossed him. And if the tenets, however revered, of Protestantism, Lutheranism, Calvinism--or any other ism were not penned by God into the instructions for HIS church, we shuttled them all.

Can't you see that our divisions do not achieve the purpose for which Christ died and for which He rose?

'I don't know how much you have suffered at the hands of a false ecumenism.' TMC

There is a lot I would like to say in response to the several thoughtful (but mostly false) responses I've received so far, but the above statement affords me a straight-from-Heaven opportunity to cut to the chase: my salivary glands do not work anymore- I DIDN'T TASTE A THING ON THANKSGIVING, and will probably never again enjoy a meal- because of false ecumenism. No kidding; there is a direct line from the bad advice that I received in 9th grade from a Catholic Church hating Protestant they let into my nominally Catholic high-school (his mother had been granted an annulment he, in all his teenage wisdom, thought that he she didn't deserve) to the tongue cancer that they had to use radiation, chemotherapy, and a neck dissection to eradicate. (http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/service-areas/ent/areas-of-care/head-and-neck-cancer/oral-cancer/hpv/infographics/hpv-oral-sex-cancer) I thus live to inveigh against V2, 'smoke of Satan' style evangelization efforts: 'And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.' Matthew 10:14 RFGA, Ph.D.

p.s. I'm not out of the woods yet, so please keep me and all those fighting cancer in your prayers.

I will keep you in my prayers, Robert. Cancer ain't no fun, no how.

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