In my next novel, I would like to explore thanksgiving – giving thanks – so I’m setting the story in November, the thankful month that turns away from Halloween and is born on All Saints Day. November gives thanks for our veterans – all those who keep us safe from those who would harm us. And finally, November celebrates our national holiday of Thanksgiving, a time of giving thanks for the founding of America, for those who fled tyranny in foreign lands and came to our shores to found our great land of freedom with its liberty and law, its celebration of human dignity.
November is a time of seasonal changes, the passing of summer and harvest and the coming of winter. Leaves change color. Days shorten and nights lengthen. Temperatures drop. We give thanks for our delicate and complex natural world, and its moments that please our sensitive senses: light slanting through clerestory windows, hovering over a medieval crucifix, and bathing a wall in golden sun; a crisp apple; billowing clouds; a child’s laughter. We give thanks for every breath, however labored, for every baby, however unwanted, for every prayer and every praise, however ridiculed, for the miracle of life from womb to grave, however threatened.
We count our blessings, seeing them all around us. We know we are frail and tiny creatures in a gigantic universe, and yet we are loved by God our Creator. That in itself is unfathomable, one of the unfathomable riches of Christ, mentioned by St. Paul and extolled in the hymn, How Great Thou Art (words from a poem by Carl Gustav Boberg, 1859-1940).
And when I think that God His Son not sparing / Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in / That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, / He bled and died, to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, / How great thou art.
Music, that perfect harmony of song and dance and poetry. But music reflects our souls and in the last century became dissonant, atonal, war-like, full of angst. We understand from history that after the Second World War, man became disillusioned with “civilization,” questioning why we could not prevent the slaughter of six million under Hitler, and close to one hundred million under Stalin and Mao and Castro. Our music and art reflected this angst, this nihilism, this despair and still do.
We distrust. We become cynical, spiraling into hopelessness and despair. We forget to give thanks, the greatest antidote to depression.
Our human story tells of a man and woman in Eden long ago who rebelled against God. Their pride desired power; their greed needed feeding; their covetousness laughed at love. They chose their own way and were exiled from Eden, following a path into the dark forest of sin and and death. For it is sin that causes death, little deaths and big deaths, according to this human history.
Thankfulness. How can we be thankful. How can we hope for faith and have faith in hope when we are surrounded by death, when we recall the carnage of Nine-Eleven, when we witness the massacre in Las Vegas, when we read about the methodical brutality of a shooter in a little church in Texas, an atheist driven by hate toward Christians. There have been so many tragedies entering our homes and settling in our hearts that we grow numb to their number, else our hearts would shatter.
Thankfulness. But the floods, the hurricanes, the tornadoes? Where is God?
Yet it is because of these horrors that we search for answers and find those answers in Christ. We have reason to give thanks because this Son of God lived, died, and rose in real time, in a real place, in real history. We give thanks there is a way beyond ourselves, beyond our warring, a path to peace, to eternal life, to the conquering of sin’s death. We are sorry and we repent. Our shattered hearts are healed by God’s touch. We give thanks for God’s great and loving entering of our history and living among us today. We give thanks for all those who protect our freedom to choose or reject this loving God. We give thanks for so many things in this fallen world.
We reach for His hand that reaches for us, pulling us out of the mire of sin and suffering and death, raising us from the quicksand of our world.
There would be little hope in humanity without hope – and faith – in God. There would be little reason to give thanks and many reasons to despair.
But we can be of good cheer, for the myriad perfection of nature, tiny and grand, the intricate interweaving of our world to produce all manner of beauty and delight, reflect a magnificent design, a story of glory that is to come and that is here now. That we should think and ponder and consider these things is proof of a God who thinks and ponders. That we should love is proof of a God who loves. That His Son lived, died, and rose from the dead is proof that we will live, die, and rise to glory.
And so November with its thanksgivings looks to December’s greater drama, when God enters history as a baby born in a stable on a starry night in Bethlehem of Judea. He enters our hearts and minds and souls. And we give thanks.