Thanksgiving did not always exist. In fact, the pilgrims who celebrated the first thanksgiving meal didn't plan on it being a yearly thing. They were merely celebrating their first successful harvest. Intended to thank God for His provision over the last few years as they left their home in England, sailed long days across the Atlantic, landed in the wrong place, lived on the ship during the winter, built their new settlement, and brought in their first successful harvest.
It lasted for three days instead of one - a tradition I think we should lobby to reinstate! And turkey, pumpkin pie, and mashed potatoes were most assuredly not on the menu.
In fact, Thanksgiving wasn't an annual national holiday until 1863 - during the middle of the Civil War. Sara Joseph Hale (you know her...she wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb") petitioned for over 30 years to have a national day of thanks. It was during the Civil War, when the country was torn and divided, that Union President Abraham Lincoln determined a national day of thanks would help heal our country. Thanksgiving was set at the last Thursday in November and has been celebrated every year - with a few changes here and there - since.
Thanksgiving is traditionally about giving thanks to God - or just being thankful - for the many blessings we've received throughout the year. It's a time of reflection on the big things God has done for us during the year.
With this line of thinking, we at Sav-A-Life would offer up thanks for only the following: a new building suited to our needs, a successful first annual 5K/10K Walk/Run, 25 years of ministry, a new birth among our staff. But as we look back on that list of big things we're thankful for, we realize that there's nothing in that list that is unique to us as a ministry.
It's in the small, day-to-day thanks-givings that we find the personalization, the essence of what this ministry is. Things such as an overabundance of baby clothes that were sent to Louisiana to help minister to the flood victims, new volunteers called to share their stories to the ladies of this community, a new ministry partnership designed to offer our new mothers high-quality photos of their newborns, new "Sav-A-Life babies" born, the tiny flutter of a 9-week old baby's heart seen through ultrasound... The list could go on and on...
Ann Voskamp is a Christian blogger who has written a book entitled One Thousand Gifts. In it, she contemplates a life of true thanks-giving. In fact, she hardly sues the word "thanksgiving" but instead eucharisteo. Why? What's so significant about this particular Greek word?
I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound. I read it slowly. In the original language, "he gave thanks" reads "eucharisteo."
I underline it on the page. Can it lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning "grace." Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks.
But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning "joy." Joy. Ah...yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about - that which Augustine claimed, "Without exception...all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy."
Remember these. Charis: grace. Eucharisteo: thanksgiving. Chara: joy.
So eucharisteo is far more than just offering thanks. It's seeing the object as a gift, a manifestation of God's grace. It's seeing that grace from God and finding joy in it...but mostly in Him.
But when do we live eucharisteo? We have, after all, designated a national day centered around thanks - never mind that the very night of and next days spent fighting for and buying more. We have designated certain days and times during the week in which we gather and worship - part of that being thanks-giving. Some of us even set aside special times during the day meant for eucharisteo.
Eucharisteo, it's the central symbol of Christianity. Thanksgiving. The table with its emblems is the essence of what it means to live the Christ-life. Sunday after Sunday in our nondenominational Bible church, we're formally invited to take the bread, the wine. Doesn't the continual repetition of the beginning our week at the table of the Eucharist clearly place the whole of our lives into the context of thanksgiving?
And too...it's the most common of foods, bread. The drink of the vine has been part of our meal taking across centuries and cultures. Jesus didn't institute the Eucharist around some unusual, rare, once-a-year event, but around this continual act of eating a slice of bread, drinking a cup of fruit from the vine. First Corinthians 11:26 reads, "whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup" - whenever.
Like every day. Whenever we eat.
Eucharisteo - whenever: now. Joy - wherever: here.
There is no set time specifically designated for eucharisteo simply because we are meant to live a life of continual thanks-giving.
"But," you say, "my time is already tight with work, house chores, the kids, church. And I already have my daily time spent alone with the Lord, praying and reading my Bible. How much more time does God want me to spend with Him?"
All of it.
All the time.
Whenever and wherever you go.
He wants you in a continual state of eucharisteo, always on the lookout for His blessings. He wants you constantly seeking His voice and meditating on His Word - not once a day or three times a week or once a year.
He wants your all.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, written by J.R.R. Tolkein, Gandalf says, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
April sun pools into a dishwater sink, liquid daylight on hands.
The water is hot. I wash dishes. On my arms, just below the hiked sleeves, suds leave delicate water marks Suds glisten. And over the soaking pots, the soap bubbles stack. This fragile tension arched in spheres of slick elastic sheets.
Light impinges on slippery film.
And I only notice because I'm looking for this and it's the rays falling, reflecting off the outer surface of a bubble...off the rim of bubble's inner skin...and where they meet, this interference of light, iridescence on the bubble's arch, violet, magenta, blue-green, yellow-gold. Like the glimmer on raven wing, the angles, the hues, the brilliant fluid, light on the waves.
I have learned that I find time when I'm eagerly looking for the minute beauty so evident in our everyday. I find more time when I reflect on that beauty and offer eucharisteo for it. That is when time slows and I find more of it.
How do I lose time? Mark Buchanan answered that in his book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Your Sabbath:
"Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering
the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage
I've ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken
and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the
rushing.... Through all that haste I thought I was making up
time. It turns out I was throwing it away."
Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. And when I'm always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter. And time slows. Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time's river slows, slows, slows.
It is when we slow down and take time to focus on the minuscule that we find that "extra" time we so desperately crave. But how do we slow down to observe the minute? I would challenge you to keep a list. A list kept daily of things you are thankful for no matter how silly or insignificant. A list that reminds you to see God represented in all things.
We enter glory, and this is where God is. When we slow time, offer eucharisteo, we enter into God's presence and are reminded of Him. We are reminded of His goodness and love, His
grace and mercy, His forgiveness and provision. We remember Him, and then we think Him.
Live out eucharisteo. Slow time and enter glory. Remember who God is. Offer eucharisteo.
Thanksgiving should not just be about offering a prayer of thanks right before we eat. Thanksgiving should not be just a gathering of family around a plentiful table. Thanksgiving should not just be deep-fried turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole.
Although all of that is good, it is not what is best.
What is best is to remember the God who so graciously made provision for all that we see and don't see. That we remember He is the one that breathes Life into us every morning.
That we remember He remembered us first.
*Quotes in magenta taken directly from One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. Pages 32, 34, 62, and 68 respectively.
*Quote in green taken directly from The Rest of God: Restoring Your soul by Restoring Your Sabbath, by Mark Buchanan. Page 45.