One of the church’s early fathers located our core personal identity in “our memory”—essentially our consciousness about who we are and where we’ve come from. Developmental psychologists encourage families to tell children the stories of their heritage—how their grandparents or parents first met, where they came from, some of the challenges they’ve had in life and how they got through them. Our memory is the very foundation that we live upon and so curating our memories is a key part of what it means to “be in Christ”—progressively bringing our imagination and identity under the goodness of God’s grace.
My warmest memory from living in North America was spending Thanksgiving with various friends in all different parts of the US and Canada. Aside from the madness of Black Friday, there was something magical about families travelling from all over the country to be together for a few days of feasting and reflection. Thanksgiving has its genesis way back in the 1600s when the original pilgrim settlers arrived in America. It was a harvest festival that was about thanking God for His provision.
As we look ahead to the New Year, it’s important to take time to pause and reflect on what God has done in this past one. Thanksgiving is not about covering our memories with the mist of fantasy but, rather, it’s about thinking well of the year by redeeming our memories with the good that God has done. It’s significant that the Thanksgiving tradition was forged during the most challenging times, when they needed it most. It began with a group who were far from home facing an uncertain future. Many years later, Abraham Lincoln finally set a common day for the whole country to share Thanksgiving at exactly the worst moment in its history—during the Civil War. It was a symbol of the peace and unity they yearned for at a time when it seemed furthest from their grasp.
Out of the complex busy-ness of the year, it’s often challenging to separate out what we’ve journeyed through and to make sense of it all—to find a coherent thread. For some of us, the year may have been dominated by life-changing events like a serious illness or injury, the end of a relationship, a different job or stage of life, or the death of someone close. In times like that it can feel easier to look forward than to reflect on what’s gone before. But the Christian art of Thanksgiving comes into its own at times like this. The Christmas story reminds us that God has stepped into our shoes and has walked where we walk—including through the uncertainties and inevitable pain of human life and death. Not only does He understand the struggles of the world as it is, but He has also breathed into life the promise of the new creation.
So, as we pause to think well of the year, we thank God for what He’s done, and we renew ourselves in the hope that as we turn towards Him, the source of light, all shadows fall behind us.
Rev Jonny Grant