Vertical and Horizontal Thanksgiving
A day to be grateful to all who bless our lives and for every way in which they have done so? If Thanksgiving Day were only that, it would be an important secular holiday. But what if it’s more?
(If you’re certain it should not be more or unwilling to consider that it might be, please just accept my earnest wishes for your happy Thanksgiving. You may not wish to read the rest of this.)
What if Thanksgiving is also a day to be grateful for everyone who blesses my life – that is, grateful to a higher power of some sort, who has caused my life to intersect with these people and their many generous acts and quiet virtues? What if today is for thanking a deity who put me in a place and time in which I have food to eat and work to do, some freedom to enjoy as I’m doing it, some faithful friends around me, and a comfortable place to lay my head?
What if this is a day to invite humility, gratitude’s plain and less socially acceptable sister virtue, to our happy feast?
What if Thanksgiving is inherently a religious holiday?
Whatever humility and meekness may survive in hearts and institutions, such a religious celebration swims against a major current of the times, because it acknowledges an authority in the universe which is both of more consequence than me personally and greater than all us mortals collectively.
For whatever gods there may have been, you see, or which the past may have conjured for itself, surely we have moved beyond them in civility, tolerance, and fairness. Surely we have learned to be more just, both legally and socially, than they (or he) ever taught and allowed past ages to be. Surely our unprecedented regard for people of all races and genders (as well as most creeds and some political persuasions) transcends – not just mimics – the much-preached but unevenly implemented love of some distant Heavenly Father for each of his children. Surely our assistance to the poor, institutionalized in law and funded by compulsion, transcends in virtue and effect any similar efforts, real or possible, which might issue from any quantity of sermons, prayers, or private pondering of scripture.
With a nod to Percy Bysshe Shelley, this is the voice of Ozymandias. Look on our works and virtues, and our unprecedented will and capacity to care for ourselves and advance our own circumstances. Look on us, ye primitive, bloodthirsty, vain, oppressive, racist ancient gods, and shrink back into the benighted times from which you came! We no longer need you. We no longer want you. We will no longer tolerate and excuse your abuses.
Such, when it lays itself bare, is one of the prevailing spirits of our time.
Just as we no longer need our iPhone 5s, 6s, and 7s, having transcended them with our 8s and 10s – and with our Android phones, as my friends of that persuasion would add – so, having progressed beyond God in our enlightened age, we may be content to embrace Thanksgiving Day as a merely horizontal holiday. How, indeed, can it be otherwise, when the only vertical direction in which we may look, from our lofty heights, is down? We have duly enthroned ourselves at the moral North Pole, from which every direction is south. Let us be grateful today for the bounties we have bestowed upon each other and ourselves.
Happy Thanksgiving. Seriously.
If Thanksgiving is merely a horizontal holiday for you, and you’re inexplicably still reading this, I really do hope it is a joyous time for you and yours. There is much to celebrate; our blessings are many, to whatever source we may attribute them.
But for me Thanksgiving is still that vertical holiday. It is all the more joyous for being a holy day on which to look above and beyond myself, in gratitude for, among other things, what I see and whom I see when I survey my world horizontally.
If you feel the same, you scarcely need my fond wishes to help you have a blessed day, but I offer them anyway. Happy Thanksgiving!
And thanks for reading.