On this day, many Americans will engage in the semi-religious rituals that compose “Thanksgiving.” We gather together in our communities, put on the appropriate costumes, and entertain and amuse ourselves before sitting down for a celebratory feast.
Though thoroughly secular, the Thanksgiving holiday returns many people to that primal sense of indebtedness that is near the heart of all religion. To engage in Thanksgiving demands acknowledging that one is not–can not be–autonomous. What we have, who we are, depends upon what is given to us.
In Christian households, this acknowledgment has taken the form of “saying Grace.” The expression fits the activity–in our prayers before the feast, we name the unmerited blessings we have received. Of courese, such saying of grace ought not be limited to meals. As Chesterton famously wrote, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
As American, we have much to give thanks for this year. While grace resists secularization–at its core, it is always the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ–we are reminded on this day of our dependence upon others, and of the ultimate dependence of all good things we enjoy on the One Father who gives them all.