Remembrance and Recovery: A Thanksgiving Exercise
The fall holiday season is here. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Charlie Brown specials! Are they even on network TV anymore? To me, the most endearing and memorable feature of those shows was the unintelligible voice of every adult. Teacher and parent alike were heard only as a blurry, slow, muted trumpet sort of sound. Waaah-wah-wa-wa-waaah. Remember it?
In these days of blistering rhetoric, even from some Christian leaders, the most sage and serious of spiritual exhortations begins to sound like the adults in Charlie Brown’s world. It’s hard to say where the disconnect lies. Is it the adults’ talking or the children’s distracted listening? Sometimes it seems we need a whole new language with which to express faith.
We stumbled upon a treasure of a practice while on vacation earlier this fall, and it strikes me that it produced in us a greater sense of awe and thanksgiving than many more traditional sources might. I submit it to you as a Thanksgiving preparation, a way to refresh the ‘screen’ of your life.
We made lists.
Because we were perched in an exquisite spot, one of us raised the question, “What is the most beautiful natural scene we’ve ever laid eyes on?” That led us to begin to enumerate all the incredible views we’ve been privileged to see with our own eyes. We went as far back as we could remember, recalling vistas both magnificent and mundane. Pretty soon we found ourselves swept away with gratitude and amazed at the sights the Lord had allowed us to see. To each his own in such listings, of course. I’m guessing that a memorable, enormous, juicy steak might make the list of gorgeous sights for one of the teenage boys in our lives.
We moved on to another list, remembering all the amazing teachers and mentors whom the Lord has privileged us to know and from whom he has called us to learn. The listing was itself an exhortation. We remembered Jesus’ words: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:28b NLT). The process of recalling our mentors refreshed hearts for mentoring.
After that, we couldn’t stop. Memorable meals. Surprising answers to prayer. Favorite walks or hikes. Memories related to our kids. Each list left us deeply aware of the Lord’s kindness.
I do admit this is not the most prominent of the Threads of biblical narrative, our focus for this year of discipleship journaling. But hey, it’s almost Thanksgiving and the discipline of remembering is definitely a consistent theme in the Scriptures, beginning to end.
The writer of Proverbs makes lists of things he finds wondrous, things the Lord loves and hates (Proverbs 30). The prophet Malachi records the Lord making lists of people who trust him and speak of him despite their difficult circumstances (Malachi 3:16). Paul makes lists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12), and the roles to which God calls his people (Ephesians 4). Hebrews 11 is one stirring, beautiful list of the way the saints of the Scriptures have exhibited faith.
Before God has even begun the Passover, he prescribes in detail how the Exodus and the deliverance from Egypt are to be remembered by his people annually. “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time” (Exodus 12:14).
Not only are the Scriptures full of instructions to remember God’s works, but God seems to equate forgetting his works with Israel’s repeated slide into idolatry. “...for you have forgotten me, putting your trust in false gods...” (Jeremiah 13:25).
After more than a year of Covid, and wincing over sometimes bitter partisan dialogue, including in the Church, I will admit to being a little weary and numb. Lots of sound Christian teaching begins to sound too much like Charlie Brown’s teachers. The problem could be as much with my hearing as it is with the speakers. Still, the language has been distorted by circumstances and current events. The accidental rediscovery of the practice of intentional remembering has brought grateful astonishment and earnest thanksgiving into my heart, right when I needed it. I invite you to try it.
Photo by Marcia Lebhar, Sde Boker, in the Negev desert.