Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Giving of Thanks

A montage of Thanksgiving memories from early school days…….orange construction paper with drawings of turkeys gobbling or on the table, Pilgrims on Plymouth rock. My turkeys looked more like Pilgrims and my Pilgrims could have been mistaken for Plymouth Rock. Then there were happy Indians and a hymn hummed…….

We gather together …..Nothing wrong with that.
To ask the Lord’s blessing ………this is suspect, maybe we don’t deserve it.
He hastens and chastens ……nice rhyme and catchy tune but what’s with the rush? And who is he scolding with his chastens?
His will to make known …………OK, get on with it.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing ….more rhymes but what are we singing about? Who’s doing the oppressing and who is being distressed?
Sing praises to his name ……………It can’t hurt. If we said thanks loads, Lord, for the good life,she would reply, You Betcha, No Problem.
He forgets not his own. …..Is it only his own he remembers? This sets up the all too familiar Us and Them.

So we have the Native American hosts and first European settlers, those uninvited guests who stole their land and never left. Something went wrong with this arrangement from the Indian point of view.... to say nothing of the turkey's.

From out of our rapacity and manifestly ungodly destiny it has evolved that we sit down for a sumptuous feast, by the accident of geography, unless we happened to be indigenous people or needy people or those living in the rubble of bombed or bulldozed homes.

It turns out this hymn was written during the Eighty Years War between Holland and Spain in the 16th and early 17th century. The Dutch were Protestants looking to break away from Catholic Spain. So gathering together was itself a subversive act. The oppression was from the Papacy who saw their grip on Europe unraveling. We revived it in the twentieth century beseeching God to lift the distress caused by the Axis powers’ oppression. …and he’d better hasten and chasten.

In its travels the hymn has gone from the front lines of war, where it is always a good idea to have God on your side, to the dining room table where, in his name we hasten without chastening the chardonnay and stuff ourselves with stuffing just short of exploding. No hint of distressing from oppressing unless you count some insufferable neighbor who wrangled an invitation and arrived an hour late causing everyone to fill up on nibbles. But it is the season to forgive such transgressions even as our gluttony is followed by sloth. God pardons such sins once a year on Thanksgiving. Aren’t we all pilgrims stumbling and bumbling our way trying to make sense of our brief allotment of time?

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