Thanksgiving is a day when Americans of all faiths sit at one spiritual table with many of the same trimmings and family customs. Thanksgiving liberates us from specific theological claims and allows us to contemplate the common creed of gratitude. It’s the only pure festival and nobody is fighting about it.
Thanksgiving is not about sales; it is about souls.
Last year, a peculiar and unique confluence of calendars and liturgies caused the Jewish festival of Hanukkah to coincide with Thanksgiving. Many Jews were bemused; some Christians sincerely missed the more accustomed symmetry, spiritual and mercantile, of the two December celebrations that add up to a lot of sales. Better that Thanksgiving stand on its own because it turns all the theological posturing of December into one big turkey.
Thanksgiving, the more inclusive, nonsectarian cousin of the December frenzy festivals, does not arrive early or late. It arrives exactly on time. It has its own clock, solar and constant, and it is not telegraphed months before by the first subtle, then blaring, business screeds on television and the Internet.
Thanksgiving is not about sales; it is about souls. And it certainly transcends all the blood being shed in the name of God’s alleged calendar.
Meanwhile, what must God think of all this killing in the name of religion? The fact is that God created a world but we created the religions. Thanksgiving is therefore the only God-true holiday because the only fail-safe religion practiced in God’s name is love.
We celebrate Thanksgiving as a uniquely inclusive American moment of community faith. It is an untainted day, a blessed coda just prior to the commercial turmoil of Christmas and Hanukkah.
We are all seated at the table with one God.
Almost every other day of the year is tinged with religious constraints and spiritual divisiveness. This holiday mitigates the fundamentalism that seeps into too much of the great American faiths, creating a sense of exclusion that divides our children and obviates the exemplary spirit of togetherness shown by Native Americans to the new pilgrims back in 1623.
If this day offers warm bread for empty bellies and cold turkey from religious coercion, then our children are well served and our country is morally redirected.
Young people think a lot about God, and they tend to view religion with some skepticism. Perhaps they are more convinced of adult hypocrisy in this category than in almost any other. Dealing with fears that were unimaginable when we were in high school a generation or two ago, these kids are generally unimpressed with any obsessive claims that one religion may hold against another.
Today, we should talk to our children about the meaning of spiritual wholeness. They hear a lot from religious zealots in school, on television and across the Internet. Today is one of those rare days when we actually gather as families, and it is worth noting that every American family fortunate enough to have a table and some bread is pretty much saying the same prayers.
This is the shared Thanksgiving epiphany—the gospel of gratitude.
Thanksgiving allows all the religions to share inclusive spiritual nourishment. Soon enough, some of our children will return to college, the homeless will return to lonely desperation, and many of us will regress to the mercantile madness of the December holidays. Jewish parents will fret again about the proliferation of Christmas symbols and images while both Jews and Christians will forget to infuse the subsequent holidays with the ethical symmetry that Thanksgiving gives us for now.
Jews, remember what you feel today when you light the Chanukah lights in a few weeks. Christians, recall today’s spiritual equity when you light the candles of the Advent wreath. At Thanksgiving, there are no politics in religion. There is only one table set for God.
Reprinted from the San Diego Union-Tribune Nov. 27, 2014
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