It’s a complex occasion, this holiday of Thanksgiving we UUs in the U.S. celebrate. The story of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth is one of the foundational myths of the American civil religion. It’s also foundational for us liberal religionists, tied as it is to those congregational forebears whose freely covenanted approach to building their religious communities inspired our Unitarian, and later Unitarian Universalist, approach to the religious life. And, it’s equally true that this story of the “Indians” sharing their bounty and breaking bread with the Pilgrims has too often been used to conceal a long and brutal history of genocide and cultural erasure of Native peoples and lifeways by European immigrants and their descendants. We ignore either side of these historical complexities at our peril.
That said, there is value in being reminded every year of the value to be found in giving thanks, in mindfully acknowledging our gratitude for the blessings in our lives. That value does not mean we ignore our struggles and hardships, but again to acknowledge both. So, in this time of Thanksgiving, I offer these poetic words from my colleague, Rev. Lynn Ungar, entitled “Thanksgiving“:
I have been trying to read
the script cut in these hills—
a language carved in the shimmer of stubble
and the solid lines of soil, spoken
in the thud of apples falling
and the rasp of corn stalks finally bare.
The pheasants shout it with a rusty creak
as they gather in the fallen grain,
the blackbirds sing it
over their shoulders in parting,
and gold leaf illuminates the manuscript
where it is written in the trees.
Transcribed onto my human tongue
I believe it might sound like a lullaby,
or the simplest grace at table.
Across the gathering stillness
simply this: “For all that we have received,
dear God, make us truly grateful.”
In faith, Eric