BY: Devin Foley
As I consider our modern culture this Thanksgiving morning, I am struck by the contrast between our lives and those of our forefathers.
Materially, there can be no doubt that our wealth exceeds theirs immeasurably. But I fear that the wealth that I want most for myself and my children has been spent. Have we become spiritually poor?
Consider this account of the Pilgrims during the winter of 1621 from A Brief History of the Pilgrims:
“In two or three months time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being in the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts, being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage had brought upon them; so as they died sometimes two or three of a day; that of the hundred and odd persons, scarce fifty remained. And of these in the time of most distress, there was but six or seven sound persons, who spared no pains, night or day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed their meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them; in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and quesie stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least. …they were not wanting to any that had need of them and I doubt not but their recompense is with the Lord.”
Such an attitude of joy in the face of suffering and material poverty could have only come through vast spiritual wealth.
Over 150 years later, that spiritual treasure was still on display. We can see it in George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1789:
“…I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln passed on and enshrined in law our spiritual inheritance by making Thanksgiving a national holiday, writing:
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Though some today are happy that we’ve discarded such an inheritance, I am not one. I find our culture to be a wasteland, a desert that leaves my soul parched.
One small way that I can help replenish that spiritual wealth is to take seriously Abraham Lincoln’s charge to America by remembering that today is not just a day of food and shopping, but rather “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Such treasure, I hope, will be stored up in the hearts of my children for the trials and tribulations that they will surely face.