Best wishes to you and yours for a joyful Thanksgiving!
During these hectic days of making travel plans, preparing holiday dinners, and getting ready for the Christmas season, it can often be difficult to find a quiet time to contemplate and reflect, not only on our blessings, but also on the concept of what it means to be thankful.
No doubt about it – it is difficult to be thankful in tough times. It seems that worries about the future consume us, and each day is a battle of some sort, whether it is defending principles or finding ways to pay the bills.
It’s not just individuals who face this conundrum. Most Historically Black Colleges and Universities are struggling, some for their very survival. While JCSU remains financially viable, we, too, find ourselves constantly facing a barrage of challenges, such as decreased government support for higher education and an environment where social mobility is growing more and more difficult for our students.
The sense that we can be thankful for still having a portion of faith and hope can get lost. Yet we do have an unblemished margin of freedom to, in the words of civil rights leader and philosopher Howard Thurman:
“to light candles of joy, despite all sadness; candles of hope where despair keeps watch; candles of courage for fears ever present; candles of peace for tempest-tossed days; candles of grace to ease heavy burdens; candles of love to inspire all [our] living.”
For it is the act of giving thanks that creates the spiritual experience that provides us with the energy and adventure of ideas, enabling us to return to the world with purpose and universal praise – and most of all, hope.
The first Thanksgiving is a singular example of that. As we learned in grade school, the Pilgrims had experienced an arduous first year in their new home in Massachusetts. Many died, and the survivors were about to face another cold, dark winter season with few resources.
Yet the harvest (such as it was) had been reaped, many people remained alive, they had found new friends in local indigenous peoples, and they were still awash in God’s love and mercy. And so they celebrated and gave thanks, an act that touched them with grace and gave them the courage to continue on.
Although our troubles today are more complex, most of us rarely face the bleak issues of life and death because of inadequate food and shelter as the Pilgrims did. Isn’t that the true meaning of Thanksgiving, the true gift of those hearty colonists? The best way we can honor them is not by overeating at the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day, but by finding the inherent joy that comes from experiencing true gratitude.
As we face the troubling issues of 2015 and beyond, let us never forget the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
On a lighter – and more personal -- note, historians have told us that while some wild turkey might have been served at that first Thanksgiving, the more bountiful protein source was eel. As more of us are learning to enjoy sushi, we are eating more raw eel these days. But I prefer mine fried, Southern style. Perhaps serving sushi or fried eel should become a new Thanksgiving Day dinner tradition! For as the act of thankfulness creates hope, hope makes for playfulness. And then we can truly make a joyful noise unto the Lord….
Dr. Ronald L. Carter