'That at one time and with one voice...'
0 comment Sunday, May 25, 2014 |
The words of Plymouth governor William Bradford, in 1623:
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at the meeting house, on the hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November the 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to the pastor and render thanksgiving to Almighty God for all His blessings."
This was the first observance of anything like our modern Thanksgiving holiday. However,
the first Federal Proclamation of a Thanksgiving observance, from 1777, is shown in the copy of the document above.
The words of the proclamation, issued by the Continental Congress, are below:
'Forasmuch as it is the indispensible duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God, to acknowledge with gratitude their obligations to him for benefits received, and to implore such further blessings as they stand in need of, And it having pleased him in his abundant mercy, not only to continue to us the immeasurable bounties of his common providence, but also to smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defence and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties. Particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure, to prosper the means used for the support of our troops, and to crown our arms with most signal success.
It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE. That at one time and with one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their DIVINE BENEFACTOR, and that together with their sincere acknowledgements and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplications that it may please God through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance. That it may please him graciously to afford his blessing on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the PUBLIC COUNCIL of the whole. To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.
And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.''
[And below the signatures of Henry Laurens and others, the document ends with this prayer:]
God Save the United States of America!
From beginning to end, the proclamation is full of references to God, which is what we might expect from a God-fearing nation, united in their Christian faith.
And united they were: notice the phrase, which I put in italics, 'That at one time and with one voice, the people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts...'
The people, united in their faith, were much stronger, and freer, I would say, than we are today, in our fractured and fragmented America, with a multitude of religious sects and faiths, with a disparate collection of people united only by inhabiting the same continent. In earlier times, we not only spoke the same language in the literal sense, but figuratively we spoke from a common cultural experience and collective folk-memory.
'Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.'
I know that that phrase, from Psalm 133, was well-known to earlier generations of Americans.
The document shown above was written more than a century and a half after the first proclamation by Governor Bradford of Plymouth, yet judging by the wording and the sentiments of the 1777 document, the Americans as a nation then seemed still to be a Christian people. And yes, there are those who will argue and argue that the Founding Fathers were all Deists, Rosicrucians, or unbelievers. If so, they did a very convincing imitation of being God-fearing Christians.
And neither were they hostile to the expression of Christian belief, if they were not believers.
Fast forward, however, to 2006.
The only mention of God in this year's Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation is this short passage:
So on Thanksgiving Day, we gather with loved ones and we lift our hearts toward heaven in humility and gratitude.'
The word 'heaven' is the only allusion to God, and that, an oblique one.
The Bush loyalists are already defending this absence of God's name in the Proclamation. 'The Bush-bashing media want to make him look bad.' 'The media hate Bush'. Or this old cliche is hauled out to defend him: 'He's the President of all the people, not just Christians!' 'We're a diverse country now, and we have to include the Muslims, the Hindus, the Jewish Americans, the Wiccans, the Zoroastrians, and the Sikhs and the Buddhists.'
Such is the state of a diverse America; we cannot express our thanks to our God too freely for fear of offending, and being declared 'insensitive' and intolerant.
And so the America that we grew up in vanishes, bit by bit.
Just for a comparison, by the way, in 2001, President Bush mentioned God by name 6 times, and mentions 'One greater than ourselves' once.
So what will our Thanksgiving Proclamation look like 5 years from now? Will we even be allowed a reference to Heaven, or is that too Christian and not inclusive enough? Come to think of it, Heaven is not an all-inclusive place; some will be excluded and that's just too politically incorrect, isn't it?
How soon before we hear the mention of Allah in our Thanksgiving Proclamation? Or shall we just mention some impersonal 'Force', in New Age/Star Wars style?
I suppose our giving of thanks to Almighty God will become strictly a private thing, to be confined only to church services and private family gatherings.
My Puritan/Pilgrim ancestors, and my French Huguenot ancestors came to this land for the express purpose of worshiping God freely and without hindrance.
How sad that their descendants are now living in a society in which mentions of God are becoming unacceptable.
And how sad that the unity we once possessed, coming from a common heritage and culture, is now a thing of the past, and that by design, not by accident.
But as long as we here in the fragmented America of 2006 still possess the right to thank God openly, I do so.
And to echo the words of the 1777 Proclamation,
God Save the United States of America!