This Thanksgiving Day, as we count our blessings amid football games, drumsticks and pumpkin pies, let us remember Sarah Josepha Hale, who likely knew nothing of betting lines and point spreads or points after touchdowns. Hale, a 19th-century New Hampshire woman, promoted for 30 years the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day, an idea adopted by President Lincoln in 1863, when America was still being bled and devoured by a terrible Civil War.
One hundred years later, the centenary of our Thanksgiving Day was overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy six days earlier. The nation and the world were saddened, of course, by that traumatizing event, but Americans still gave thanks for our blessings.
We are often urged to count our blessings, blessings that we assumed, back when Sunday School was still in fashion, came from God. But God works in mysterious ways and has unusual delivery systems. The blessings we often do not recognize include everything from a pesky little brother to a bossy big sister (“Big sisters are the crabgrass on the lawn of life,” said Linus in the “Peanuts” cartoons) to the teacher you hated. Candid friends are a mixed blessing. So are demanding editors. Even the rain that cancels a ballgame can be a blessing if the vegetables and other plants need the precipitation.
All these things we take for granted until they are taken from us. We learned, back in those Sunday School days, the story of the 10 lepers Jesus cured. Only one came back to thank him. We all identify with that one. Surely, if we had been cured of leprosy, we would have thanked our deliverer. But what is a greater blessing — to be delivered from such an awful affliction or to be given good health all our lives? And how often are we grateful for that?
There is also the story of a paralytic Jesus cured, who went into the temple, leaping and shouting God’s praises. How many people come into our churches that way — and how would we react if they did? Again, why should we be less grateful as people who have walked or seen all our lives than someone is who had just been given his sight or mobility?
It is no longer fashionable to speak about God. Thanksgiving Day proclamations speak glowingly of “God’s blessings” but not of God. Al Gore was much ridiculed, mainly by his fellow Democrats, for excessive “God talk.” (“God bless you,” Gore, a former divinity school student, would say to a questioner from the audience.) President Bush speaks of God and is suspected of false piety or hucksterism.
Perhaps Eisenhower — God help us — captured the spirit of American piety when he said that the American form of government made no sense without a deeply held religious belief. “And I don’t care what it is!” saith the Ike.
An ambiguous faith, addressed “To Whom It May Concern” — that seems to fit America in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Back in the 18th century, the early Americans, declaring their independence from the crown, spoke with similar ambiguity about the Creator and Divine Providence. Today one creates a political and social firestorm by suggesting that the existence of a Creator, as opposed to cosmic accidents (random events), might be a subject worth exploring in the classroom.
“When creation forgets its Creator life’s blueprints become lost and so do His creatures.” So writes Eugene F. Hemrick of the Life Cycle Institute. Some people remind us not only to be thankful, but of Whom we should thank. Let us count our blessings. NH
Manchester’s Jack Kenny is planning on having joy and gratitude in his heart this Thanksgiving, whether he feels like it or not.
This article appears in the March 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine