This is the Thanksgiving Day weekend, a time filled with memories for many of us, of family get-togethers, traditional foods, and pausing to take a moment of gratitude for the blessings of life God has given us. A Thanksgiving memory of recent years that I cherish is family get-togethers at the cabin.
The Wold cabin is a rustic place (no power, no running water) in the aspen parkland south east of Red Deer. It sits at the edge of the woods, in a meadow that is home to bluebirds, Saskatoon bushes, and crocuses. A path leads down to a large slough our family calls Wolden Pond. There is no official road access to our place – just a dirt track that meanders across a friendly neighbour’s land – over fields, around ponds, and through forests. “The Land,” as we call it, has almost no agricultural value, only being able to support a small number of cattle for a short time, so it is left to the beavers, owls, deer, coyotes, and moose.
It’s a paradise.
For the last several years our family has gathered at the cabin for Thanksgiving. We share a potluck meal, go for walks over the cool autumn-scaped land, and play board games by the wood stove. Usually there are guests; family friends, people staying with mom and dad as short-term guests, and international exchange students have all added their wonderful new voices and experiences to the general conversation. Usually there is a time when we pause on the pumpkin pie and share something we feel grateful for in the past year.
This year there won’t be a gathering at the cabin; COVID-19 makes it too risky. Although we’re all really sad to miss this treasured time, the last thing we want to do is spread the virus to each other. We won’t be able to enjoy the laughter and shared conversation, the food, and being in the beautiful setting; but there is still something we’ll be able to do, maybe even more powerfully in 2020: give thanks.
COVID-19 has caused the diminishment of our world in so many ways. We have lost the ability to travel—even outside our own homes, never mind abroad. We are not able to gather with family or friends, in our homes or other settings. Many of us have found ourselves without employment and challenged to make ends meet. These are powerful and difficult realities that we do not ignore… even as we turn our hearts toward gratitude for the gifts God still gives.
More quiet time for reading, prayer, or hobbies. Enjoyment of the outdoors through the seasons of spring, summer, and fall. Rest. Renewed appreciation for the relationships of our lives. We take less for granted, newly knowing the fragility of our society. But also newly discovering our own resilience.
For me this is a time of renewed appreciation for the opening words of the Great Thanksgiving in the communion liturgy:
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give God thanks and praise.
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God…
Our right, our duty, and our joy to give thanks in all times and places. Gratitude is a gift given to conscious human beings that no one can take away (our right). But it is not to be taken for granted; it must be willed (our duty). Having chosen gratitude as our basic orientation to life though, we are rewarded with joy.
I hope this Thanksgiving, outwardly diminished though it might be for you, will be an occasion for even greater gratitude than ever before. In the midst of difficult challenges and troubling times, may you discover the gift of a grateful heart.