The last two weeks have been marked with rituals of thanksgiving: a community ecumenical Thanksgiving service at the local Roman Catholic Church, Holy Eucharist on Thanksgiving Day at Hickory Neck, dinner and visiting with my dad, and, today, offering the benediction at the 400th anniversary of the first official English Thanksgiving in North America. The rituals have all been tremendous blessings and ways to center and ground life in gratitude, a practice that can sometimes fall to the wayside in the busyness of life.
However, what has struck me about this season of gratitude is how imperfect it has been. Often when we think of Thanksgiving Day, we immediately picture Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of the perfect meal. But as I checked in with people and as I watched those around me, I realized nothing about this season of thanksgiving has been perfect. I had parishioners who just welcomed a baby a few days before Thanksgiving Day and had resigned themselves to having Chinese so that no one would have to cook or stress about taking the newborn out. I heard stories of family drama over the menu for the day. My own family was coming off a few hospitalizations so resigned ourselves to dinner out – which then got foiled by a two-hour wait, with a wait staff that looked like they wanted to be home with their own families. The music and collaboration of clergy was beautiful last week, but we hold in tension our denominational differences. Even the anniversary celebration today is consciously honoring the ways in which the histories of American Indians, African-Americans, and English-Americans bring a shadow over our celebration.
As I have been pondering this imperfection, this disconnect between our ideal of perfected thanksgiving rituals and the reality of the messiness of life, I have actually found deep spiritual comfort. Nothing about our lives is perfect. We are all sinners, trying to be better versions of ourselves. Even our offering of thanksgiving is imperfect. But the love of God is perfect. God sees our messiness and loves us anyway. God sees the ways we hurt each other, the ways we argue, the ways we are rude or unkind, the ways that we cannot always honor our rituals, and God loves us anyway. In fact, I sometimes wonder if God doesn’t prefer our imperfection, for in confessing our imperfection, we are fully honest, fully vulnerable, and fully trusting of God. We bring our real selves to God, and it is there that we give the most heartfelt thanksgiving. We feel, know, and experience God most powerfully in those moments of imperfection.
This week, I invite you to continue your practice of gratitude with God and one another. In our thanksgiving, we are not just thanking one another for appearance’s sake, but we are thanking one another in fullness, in love, and in generosity. Use this week to find people to thank – for the big things and the very tiny things. My guess is we may all start working toward the perfection of God’s love with each act of thanksgiving.