"For the Beauty of the Earth," written by Folliott S. Pierpoint, is a cherished hymn text that will be part of many Thanksgiving gatherings this week. Pierpoint's hymn recalls the simple beauties afforded each hour by God's physical creation.
But the most touching verse offers thanks and praise for the intangible "joy of human love," reminding all of the happiness provided by family and friends.
Because of its traditional association with the harvest, there is a tendency to equate the Thanksgiving holiday with the blessings of material abundance. Even with today's stagnant economy, contemporary Americans can be grateful that they enjoy, in general, unparalleled prosperity when put into historical or comparative context.
But that vague, aggregated context is cold comfort to the many individuals and families caught in the demoralizing grip of unemployment and underemployment. There is no way to sugar coat the fact that these continue to be perilous economic times, especially for those whose lifestyles have been built on credit.
And there is not much consolation to be found in the way major institutions have responded to our economic plight. As governments try to unwind long-term debt and create opportunity, one mostly observes discord and distrust.
Given the seemingly intractable economic problems of our day, it may seem idealistic and quaint to think that something as straightforward as a Thanksgiving meal could provide part of the answers to our ills.
Certainly there is something reassuring in the chosen ritual for Thanksgiving — often a potluck gathering of family and friends around a table laden with comfort foods. But the simplicity and comfort of the Thanksgiving meal belies its power to reconnect us to the incomparable joy of human love.
Thanksgiving gives folks an entire day where they have the permission to savor unfussy but powerful ways of expressing fondness for one another: home cooked food, conversation and hugs. (But we would remind well-intentioned uncles that they do not have permission to dispense unsolicited advice.)
It may be idealistic to think that one meal can change our broken world. But the essential elements of Thanksgiving certainly provide part of the answer: family, friends, connectedness and gratitude to God.
So, if you enjoy Thanksgiving, we would encourage you to take more time to replicate its core elements throughout the year — just without all the calories.