Friday, November 07, 2014
Tuesday, November 04, 2014
Faith Works 11-9-14
Planning ahead, with grace
Thanks to reader Johnda, I've been reminded that Thanksgiving is coming soon.
Okay, I knew Thanksgiving was heading our way, and I've been finishing Advent and Christmas plans the last few weeks, but I had sort of overlooked the Great American Holiday.
Yes, there's the Fourth of July, but most countries have some sort of "national day" with fireworks and parades and celebrations of various sorts. Canada has a Thanksgiving Day, but they hold it on the second Monday in October and it's not quite the same "all hands on deck" thing it is in America.
Our own fourth Thursday in November observance, with roots in harvest festivals and Pilgrim history and echoes of Native American awareness: it's very much a thing to its own United States self. Friends who have spent extended periods overseas have told me about how important it can be to find other Americans to gather with as November heads for a conclusion, whether a turkey is roasted or not.
Johnda's reminder to me is that there's not only the national holiday of Thanskgiving, and the family traditions that bring us around a dinner table like no other commemoration, but there's that little matter of a prayer.
Who will say grace for Thanksgiving? And if it's "you" that's tapped, could I offer any hints or guidelines or suggestions for doing a family table grace before that awkward moment of silence, followed by an even more awkward question from the relative at your right: "Say, uh, would, um, you do the honors, I mean, if you could just…. Uh, would you say grace?"
Step one in a happy Thanksgiving moment of grace: consider asking a likely candidate in advance "would you say grace for the family just before we all sit down to dig in?" It's always more graceful to give someone warning that they might be called on.
Step two, if you happen to be that person: how will you pray?
There are a number of tools to help you out. Christians have often used the acronym "ACTS" to recall a useful sequence of expression in public prayer; A for adoration, C for confession, T for thanks given, S for supplication.
Adoration is simply an opening statement of appreciation and respect, like the "Dear So-and-so" at the start of letters. "Almighty God, from whom all blessings flow…" is a form of adoration.
Confession is to clear the decks, and acknowledge, if nothing else, that we know we're not God, and that our acts and intentions are often not in line with God's. "God, we know that there are many who would be so glad to have just a portion of how we're blessed at this table…" might be part of our confession in a Thanksgiving prayer. Gandhi is believed to have said "Oh God, bless this food we are about to receive. Give bread to those who hunger; and hunger for justice to us who have bread." That's the confession part of ACTS in a nutshell.
Thanksgiving we should be pretty much up to speed with; S for Supplication is a reminder that we don't ask for ourselves until we've interceded for others, and that our own blessings come into focus when we actively call out for the blessings others so greatly need.
That's the ACTS method. The author Anne Lamott had a book out not long ago that sums it up even more simply, and with a slightly more secular spin: the title is "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers." Lamott argues that pretty much all our prayers fall into one of those three categories: Help, Thanks, or Wow. For Thanksgiving, you might want to include parts of all three in your family table prayer.
Or there is the quirky yet beautiful grace from the punctuationally challenged e. e. cummings:
i thank You God for most this amazing
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
And if you don't know what else to say, there's what we've taught the Lad is always the basic form: "Dear God, Thank You, Amen!" Most prayers at any table simply expand on that solid tripod.
Or the classic: "Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen."
How will you pray at your Thanksgiving table?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County, Ohio; he's probably going to be saying grace somewhere in Indiana a few Thursdays from now. Tell him how you say grace at email@example.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.