The Thanksgiving holiday traditionally finds many Americans grateful and confident about their future. However, this holiday season finds many Americans filled with anxiety, fear, helplessness, and hopelessness.
We are living in an age of deep darkness in which desolation, despair, and hopelessness run rampant. Every night on the evening news, we are inundated with atrocities and reports of scandals, lies, cover-ups, distortions, divisiveness, anger, tribalism, bigotry, mass-shootings, exploitation, manipulation, demonization, violence, greed, and impeachment.
However, amid darkness, fear, and grief, it is still important to pause and celebrate Thanksgiving. On Nov. 6, 1789, President George Washington encouraged America “to observe a day of public thanksgiving and prayer and acknowledge with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.” In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation of a national Thanksgiving Day that invited Americans “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Thanksgiving is an American tradition that transcends cultures. The Thanksgiving holiday has the potential to help us remember our diverse journeys, reassess our personal and corporate values, and recommit our efforts and resources to the greater good.
In contemplating the importance of Thanksgiving, Howard Thurman counsels us “to be thankful for the fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before us, without whom our own lives would have no meaning; the visionaries who saw visions and dreamed dreams; the prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp, and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see; the workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations; the pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons, whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places; and the savior whose blood was shed with the recklessness that only a dream could inspire and God could command.”
While the Thanksgiving holiday reminds many of the freedoms they enjoy, the Thanksgiving season also reminds others of the burdens they carry. In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt reminded America that “as much has been given unto us, much has been expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips and shows itself in deeds.” It is my prayer that we view this Thanksgiving as an invitation to recommit ourselves to deeds of justice, equity, love, compassion, personal accountability, corporate responsibility, spiritual awareness, and moral courage.
As we observe Thanksgiving in the current environment of turmoil, trouble, and tragedy, let us remember the wisdom of Holy Writ: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14, KJV).
Dr. Derrick Jackson is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Gallatin (Winchester Street).