Contemplating Thanksgiving and the Gifts of God’s Creation

Thanksgiving—the time when we reap the harvest of our hands, when the efforts over the spring and summer show all was not in vain as we feast on the fruit (and vegetables) of our labour. At least that’s the theory. My Thanksgiving table is usually supplemented by the store or someone else’s garden.

I’ve always had a garden. It started as a way to feed five growing children. Problem was, I’ve never had a very successful garden. Of the stuff that actually grew, the kids snacked on carrots when they played outside while the squirrels enjoyed the peas and beans. There wasn’t much left for Thanksgiving. I had to buy cabbage for sauerkraut since the bugs decided mine were the tastiest things they’d ever come across. That pretty much left me with green tomatoes, radishes, beets, oh, and Brussels sprouts. One year, I left the sprouts in the garden long enough for them to freeze solid, then harvested them with a hammer straight into a bag for the freezer.

As for the meat, well, we might have duck that my husband had hunted or other poultry bought from a local farmer, or a store. And of course all this is shared with family and friends because Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, to spend time with family and give thanks to God for our blessings. And it may be a practice we should celebrate more often.

Finding Harmony with the Earth

Our church hosted a conference last month. It’s theme was “Healing Earth”—how the Earth can heal us and how we can heal the Earth. The main speaker was Fr. Michael Oleksa. He is a storyteller extraordinaire, and his stories about his life among the native peoples of Alaska gave me much pause for thought. As I listened, I realized we, in our 21st century North American life, have ignored the opportunity to fully experience God’s salvation.

Indigenous people all over the world have stories and traditions which encourage them to treat all life as sacred. Their traditions and experience have taught them to have a closer relationship to the earth, its moods and its creatures. There was a time when a successful hunt was accompanied by ceremony and thankfulness to the spirit of the animal for allowing itself to be sacrificed. Every part of the animal was used for food, shelter or clothing. Anything not used was returned to the earth. It’s only been in the past century that indigenous peoples have started to lose this connection.

In today’s society, few people are conscious of the symbiotic relationship with creation necessary for both our survival and our salvation. Some of these may be farmers, hikers or hunters—people who live close to the land. But even that connection is being lost through modern corporate farm practices and the use of motorized vehicles in the forests. Most of us live by shopping in stores with little thought given to the origins of the stuff we buy.

The early American pilgrims were extremely thankful to the native peoples for providing them with food for the winter. But their thankfulness didn’t extend to accepting the natives as equal to themselves. Neither did the pilgrims have a synergistic theology of creation. They didn’t understand we were meant to commune with God through creation, to live harmoniously with it, to tend and nurture it. For them, creation was something to be used for man’s pleasure, a resource to be exploited, something to be conquered. Unfortunately, this view persists to this day.

Embracing Gratefulness

I give thanks to God for the food I receive and thank the ones who prepared it, but I have never thanked the spirit of the animal for giving up its life so I might live. I have never thanked the thousands of animals whose flesh has been combined to create the hamburger I am about to eat. I have never thanked the bird whose short life was one of misery, suffering in a crowded barn and for whom death was probably a blessed relief. I have never thanked the pig whose bacon I consume with my eggs, though I have thanked the chickens who provided the eggs (they live on our property).

The indigenous people have been truth bearers about creation, but their numbers are dwindling as they are increasingly being assimilated into a fragmented paradigm of the world. Our society needs to rediscover a holistic view of creation. As long as we continue to exploit and abuse the earth, to put ourselves above it rather than realize we are part of it, we fall far short of the redemption Christ intended. The more we ignore the earth, our source of life, the more we become susceptible to both mental and physical illness, paralleling the illness of the earth itself. The more we damage the earth, the more we damage ourselves.

Let us be thankful for every life given in order for us to continue to live. Let us be thankful by repairing and maintaining the intricately woven life sustaining systems of earth itself. And let us show our thanks to God by respecting all of Creation: the earth, the air, the water, and the animals, all of which God has given to us to nurture. Glory to God!

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Patricia Anastasia Bartlett is the author of 'Glimpses of Glory',…
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