Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for the Pilgrimage Itself

Thanksgiving prayers rarely go below the surface. Have you ever paid attention to them? We thank God for food and for plenty, for family and friends, for our nation, and for freedom. We thank God for the good stuff.

But the original American Thanksgiving was not about riches and bounty. It was about gratitude that comes from making it through extremely difficult times to follow the heart. Half of the people on the Mayflower died from disease. They were a half dead and almost starved, barely managing, rag-tag band of pilgrims looking for a place where they could escape persecution and practice religious freedom. And by God, they made it! So they paused to acknowledge their blessings with a feast.

The beatitudes remind me that blessings are much deeper than the things we like. Hard things are blessings because they are things that draw us closer to God. Gratitude is being thankful for the pilgrimage itself.

What would our faith be like if we revived the way of the pilgrim? A pilgrim is one who hasn't yet found what we're looking for. This Thanksgiving, don't just thank God for what you have or for what makes you happy. Give thanks for where you've been and where you're going, and for the journey itself with all its bumps and bruises. True gratitude sees a bigger picture.

As a pastor, I feel like a pilgrim. I serve in a culture that is dispassionate about religion and in one of many American denominations that are highly anxious over the decline of their institutions. Yet the good news is Christianity is not dying. It's simply on a pilgrimage of its own. In church history, transformations have always happened right under the noses of those dedicated to the very institutions they built to preserve previous transformations. And that's how we come back to the spirituality of Jesus.

It's the pilgrimage that matters. Give thanks.