The question of the role of faith in the public square has perhaps never been a more sensitive and complex than it is today. As we become a more and more secular culture, all around we see a redefinition, and sometimes dismissal, of traditions and practices that have historically been linked with religion. And I totally get that. If you don’t believe in the significance of Jesus and his life I don’t see why you need to celebrate occasions that are inescapably linked to him. What is interesting however is that there is one tradition that seems to be immune to this wave cultural revision – Thanksgiving Day.
No matter how irreligious our culture becomes it seems to not want to give up the celebration of thanksgiving. Its almost as if there is something deeply human about it. When we take some honest time to reflect on the nature and direction of our lives, on the benefits that many of us enjoy, the privileges we share, the beauties that we witness – its almost impossible to remain totally ungrateful.
Technology has helped us feel very strong and powerful over the world. And yet when we take a step back and look around we realize that the world is still a very challenging place. Pain and suffering are real all around us. And this whole thing is driven by forces that are completely beyond our reach. Life is fragile. Societies are fragile.
And yet here we are, many of us alive and well.
It seems there is no way to respond to such reflections except to overflow with gratitude. It happens almost subconsciously as it wells up in our hearts.
The challenge however comes with the whole notion of Thanksgiving in a secular context. The act of gratitude is by definition a personal one, and yet who is it that we are thanking if there is no supreme, personal force standing behind life of the universe? Can we be thankful to the lifeless and mechanistic forces that direct the galaxies? I suppose we can if we want, but the question is does it actually mean anything to do so?
So here’s the first question I want to ask this week as we reflect on the coming celebrations: not merely what are you thankful for, but more importantly, who are you thanking?