Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Poems


The time has come again to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States.  As children, we are taught the story of "the first Thanksgiving." We are told about the Pilgrim settlers who came together with their Native American neighbors. They shared with each other the bountiful harvests that they had reaped. Tables were filled with favorite dishes from the "new world" (North America) and the "old world" (Europe). It is a heart warming story, and it provides the plot for some really good plays at elementary schools across the country.

Sometimes it is easy to forget what holidays really mean, and just as easy to take them for granted. It is easy to forget that the word "holiday" itself is simply a contraction of the words "Holy Days." When we acknowledge that holidays are Holy, the Thanksgiving Holy Day can become more special to us as Christians. May we be ever mindful that the thanks offered on Thanksgiving are thanks offered to God.

It is also easy to view holidays only as they affect ourselves. One of this week's two poems is actually a hymn that can be a lesson in broadening our appreciation for holidays. This hymn, which Americans often associate with their own celebration of Thanksgiving and sing in their Thanksgiving plays, was a Prayer of Thanksgiving brought to the "New World" in the early 1600s by Dutch settlers--not by Pilgrims. It was translated to English centuries later by Theodore Baker (1851-1934). 

Thanksgiving is not simply an American holiday. Rather, the American holiday is simply one way to recognize a Holy Day that is acknowledged in the Dutch Prayer of Thanksgiving--a prayer that existed before any Pilgrims celebrated with the Indians. Before that, Hebrew prayers of thanksgiving appeared in the Psalms and other places in the Bible. Indeed, the sacrifices that Able offered to God in Genesis are proof that worshiping and giving thanks to God extends all the way back to the very first family in the scriptures.

Read the words of this week's featured hymn prayerfully, remembering the blessings that we enjoy every day as people of God in all of the world and in all generations.

We Gather Together
  Words by Nederlandtsch Gedencklanck; 
  trans. by Theodore Baker

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing; 
he chastens and hastens his will to make known. 
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. 
Sing praises to his name, he forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, 
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine; 
so from the beginning the fight we were winning; 
thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant, 
and pray that thou still our defender wilt be. 
Let thy congregation escape tribulation; 
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

When we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States, we usually think of the Pilgrims and the Indians eating a meal to thank God for helping them survive their first year in America, and to thank the Indians for their help in adapting to these new surroundings.  Therefore, I wanted to include this week a poem that was translated from a traditional Iroquois prayer of thanksgiving.  The Native Americans saw the near complete destruction of their lives when Europeans settled the Americas, and I think we should honor them as well during this week of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgivings
  By Harriet Maxwell Converse
Translated from a traditional Iroquois prayer

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here
          to praise Him.
We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered
          that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.
We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products
          to live on.
We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs
          for our lands.
We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.
We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming
          from them for us all.
We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows
          for our shelter.
We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder
          and lightning that water the earth.
We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun
          that works for our good.
We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.
We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank
          all its trees.
We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being
          of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.
We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs,
          the stars.
We give Him thanks for our supporters, who had charge of our harvests.
We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard
          through the words of Ga-ne-o-di-o.
We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant
          occasion.
We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music,
          and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.
We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies


3 comments:

silvereagle said...

Both selections are very nice. I did not know the history of the first, and the second is new to me...Thanks(giving) to you, young man!!!

Will said...

Thanksgiving has now become infected with greed and commercialism but the Thanksgiving you refer to is the traditional American version oo peace and camaraderie between the English and the Native Americans. You might find Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower an interesting read. Among the revelations that don't appear in any of the usual literature or the standard holiday myths is that poles bearing the heads of four Indians were a decade-long ornament at the entrance of the palisaded Plymouth colony and that the Plymouth colony sent boatloads of Indians in chains to be sold as slaves in the West Indies. I am not saying this to denigrate the holiday, but the Pilgrims were human beings with all the usual faults as well as virtues and it would be wise to keep their story in balance.

JoeBlow said...

I completely agree with you, Will. My heritage is part Native American, so I always keep that in perspective.