On Thanks-Giving

by Mark T. Mitchell on November 19, 2012 · 6 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Culture, High & Low

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Hidden Springs Lane. It’s been a long political season. Some Americans are excited about the prospect of an Obama second term. Others are despondent. Many on both sides are exhausted. As the nation decompresses from what seemed a nearly interminable campaign, it is appropriate that we turn to things more important. Thanksgiving affords us the opportunity to do just that.

It is so easy to get caught up in the business of busy lives and to become blind and deaf to the very things that make life sweet. It is absurd to think that busyness is somehow a measure of a good or successful life. Yet, when I ask people how they’re doing, the most frequent answer is simply “busy.” It seems that all too often we let busyness distract us from the real business of life.

What is this business of life? Well, for one it is not abstractions. We are embodied creatures and, though our technology increasingly tempts us to imagine that place and particulars don’t matter, they do. Perhaps more than ever we need to cultivate the habit of paying attention to things right before our eyes.

This morning just after dawn I was sitting in our living room holding my daughter. She was born on April 24. A year ago, we had no idea we would have the privilege of knowing her. It was on December 30 that we received a phone call asking if we would be willing to adopt a baby who would be born in the spring. A crisis pregnancy. A mother unable to raise a child. We said yes.

Tana wakes early and always with a smile. She’s the best natured baby I have ever known. I sit with her in the quiet of the still sleeping house. She makes little baby sounds as if she’s trying to talk. I pretend I understand. She pauses, gathers herself, and sneezes. One of those body-convulsing events that is unseemly in an adult but delightful in a baby. She sneezes, looks at me, and laughs a deep, belly-laugh of surprise and delight. The moment is gone almost as soon as it happens. I have only the memory. And I have her in my arms. A tiny, beautiful person who laughs when she sneezes. She is a completely gratuitous gift to our family and by extension, to the world. I am thankful.

As we sit, I catch a movement out of the corner of my eye. A deer in the yard. I lay Tana down. The rifle is propped against the wall for just this kind of thing. I step to the window. It’s a large doe with last year’s fawn, not yet fully grown. I leave the gun in its place, slowly open the door and step onto the porch. They skip delicately through the grass, their tails flashing and pull up to look at me, from what they think is a safe distance. Very still. Go ahead, deer. Let’s enjoy the morning together. There will be other days.

The little things we take for granted aren’t little at all. A baby’s smile. A doe and her fawn. Friends who come over just to sit, drink a beer, and talk. The smell of dusty pine needles. A purple sunset in deep fall. Sitting in a deer stand with a ten-year-old boy who starts to shiver and scoots over close and who fits under your arm just right.  I am thankful.

For a family. This mini-tribe who share the same house, who laugh and fight and cry and love and forgive. Together. What kind of precious gifts do we casually look past every day as we go about our busy lives? These moments appear as gifts unbidden and are gone before we grasp their full significance or even notice they were given. What does it mean to share a life with other immortal souls? To eat dinner with such as these? Though I am undeserving, I am grateful.

How easy it is to forget to say thank you to God from whom all blessings flow. With a world full of suffering and loss, every good reveals itself as a gift: For the beauty of a song. All creatures of our God and king, lift up your voice and with us sing. For bread and wine. Take and eat. For prayer. Give us this day our daily bread. For silence. I am grateful.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar robert m. peters November 19, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I am reminded by this article that our Lord, quite unlike the pagan gods whose stories place man as the creature to feed the gods places before our father Adam all of the wonderful things to eat. He feeds us. In the Eucharist our Lord feeds us. How blessed we truly are.

Quite often, a people too close to their own language lose the objective correlative of terms or phrases in that language. I wonder if my French Canadianfriends have lost the objective correlative to their beautiful term for Thanksgiving – le jour or le fête de l’Action de grâce (s). I hope not.

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 20, 2012 at 7:30 am

A beautiful tribute to the holiday and the season, Mark; many thanks.

avatar David Smith November 20, 2012 at 8:17 am

Amen, brother! Thank you!

avatar Dod November 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I am grateful for this article and for a fine new book I’m currently reading, “The Politics of Gratitude” by one Mark T. Mitchell. The only puzzling part is that I only learned about this book from the TAC website when, unless I have missed something, this one could have posted the good news. But, still, thanks are very much in order.

avatar Roman November 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Mark, thank you for writing this. It’s loaded with what resonates in my heart. Cheers and thank God, indeed, for all of these great things.

avatar Chris Travers November 26, 2012 at 8:54 am

Mr Peters wrote:

I am reminded by this article that our Lord, quite unlike the pagan gods whose stories place man as the creature to feed the gods places before our father Adam all of the wonderful things to eat. He feeds us. In the Eucharist our Lord feeds us. How blessed we truly are.

While I don’t disagree with your view of Christianity, I think the view you have of the pagan gods is perhaps a little off. In the Norse tradition, for example, man dines with the gods and this is not the same as feeding them. You eat with the gods, you feed the dead. It’s more or less the same with Greek paganism if we take Walter Burkert’s works along with Daniel Ogden’s on Greek religion and the relationship between the living and the dead.

The difference between the pagan gods and Christianity is thus more subtle. As a pagan, one seeks to have fellowship with the gods. It isn’t a relationship of equals to be sure, but it is more like looking up to older, wiser, and stronger siblings than an authoritative father. Thus the offerings are usually a way of inviting the gods to dine, and as a way of thanking them for our current prosperity.

Interestingly in both Greek and Norse tradition the portions of the sacrificed animals left to the gods are also the least edible, the fat and sinew and bone, and maybe some of the entrails. This makes some sense if you think about dividing up the carcass between the people and the fire. The people eat what they can and the fire eats what it can (fat, etc). The flesh is to be consumed by the humans present after roasting it on a sacred fire. Again this is different than the sacrifices to the dead which were not shared. As lively as the Greek relationship with the dead was, it wasn’t lively enough to invite ghosts over to the dinner table.

Also the first fruits sacrifice may be seen specifically as a thanksgiving offering. This of course would extend to leaving the first morsel from the plate to Vesta in Roman times.

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