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Gary's Faith Walk

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Thanksgiving, here and there

The church alter was laden with the bounty of the earth—squash, cabbages, apples, and more. The choir and the congregation sang enthusiastic hymns of joy and praise for the harvest had been good. The Protestant pastor offered the benediction at the end of the service and invited all to come forward to receive the gifts which the Lord provided. Slowly, mothers with babies in arms, pensioners, and young adults moved to the front of the rented hall in the former Soviet “House of Culture.” Each person paused and moved slowly away with a small parcel of fresh fruit or vegetables as partial provision for the week ahead. Worship that autumn Sunday morning in St. Petersburg, Russia was all about thanksgiving. As one Russian mother has shared, “We thank the Lord for the fruit in our gardens and fields, and also for the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and for the new people in church.”

Elsewhere, our neighbors to the north celebrate Thanksgiving in October. Years ago, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed, “A day of general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed—to be observed on the second Monday of October.”

In Canada, Thanksgiving Day or Jour de l’Action de grâce, makes for a three day weekend with Sunday worship lifting up the gratitude of the people for good harvest and family. Monday, the official holiday, sports a Thanksgiving Day parade and a double header football game broadcast across the country. Sound familiar? 

Lest we citizens of the USA think we have an exclusive claim to North American Thanksgiving, it’s good to be reminded others may view history differently. Elizabethan explorer Martin Frobisher offered thanks upon his safe return to Newfoundland after searching for the Northwest Passage. All this happened in today’s Canada in 1578, 43 years before the Pilgrims gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts with native peoples to celebrate the harvest and their return to health. But maybe being “first” doesn’t really matter.

In my faith walk, Thanksgiving is rooted in the an Old Testament charge: “When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you… and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land… and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling place for this name.” After setting the basket down, bowing down to the Lord, we are to “celebrate” for all we have been provided. (Deuteronomy 26: 1-11)

Thankfulness and celebration: the family whom we love and who loves us; the beauty of the North Country which surrounds us; the general absence of forest fires this past summer; the joy, challenge, and responsibilities which come from our American heritage; and the freedom to worship as we feel called. 

As I prepare for Thanksgiving, I’ll work hard to ignore the market driven, crass commercialism of upcoming Christmas. I’ll seek out the warm gathering of family in a quiet home. We’ll tell stories of then and now. We’ll enjoy yams and stuffing, pies and veggies, and an organic turkey raised at a Hutterite colony in Montana! And, together we will offer a prayer of thanks for the bounty we enjoy, and we’ll celebrate the life we share. 

May the Lord bless you and yours this Thanksgiving.

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Author info

Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

Tagged as:

faith, Thanksgiving, Russia, thankfulness

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