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01 December 2012

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I'm slow. Thanksgiving is over and as I write I'm listening to Christmas music. It's because we've decided that our house is too small for our family, and there isn't anywhere to put Baby Girl once she gets here. So we're putting it on the market and looking into a different one. There's a certain amount of drama and disruption involved, but we're surviving. It sure is disruptive to the blogging though!

For Thanksgiving, we scaled our feast way back (dinner was our favorite turkey sandwiches, called "superstackers," some french fries, with pumpkin pie for dessert). But I did spend some time pondering the holiday. The past couple of years it seems to me that less is more, and holidays become more meaningful without all the glitz. Turns out Thanksgiving is the same way. I was fortunate to run across President George Washington's proclamation of the nation's first Thanksgiving holiday.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

One of the first things that struck me was that, George Washington, though he was scrupulously careful to follow the Constitution and remain strictly within his role as outlined, had no problem with acknowledging God. Looking at this, I think that he'd be rather surprised and dismayed by the modern idea of "separation of church and state" as he clearly did not have the same ideas regarding the ideal relationship between government and God. And no wonder; the modern idea is basically state-sponsored atheism, and a far cry from our roots. Looking at this document,

The next thing I thought about was the source of authority for the proclamation of a holiday. This is a question that I'm finding intriguing, because I am having a hard time figuring it out. It is my understanding that the first Congress was heavily populated by the men who had helped to write the Constitution, and of course Washington was POTUS. They should be the experts on what is and is not allowed. Additionally, you have two branches of the government working together here; Washington specifically cites a Congressional request for the holiday. However, I do notice that this "day of public thanksgiving and prayer" is a recommended day, and lacks the force of law. He doesn't make it an official observance, and he doesn't mention anything about anyone taking time off for the observance, and there certainly is no mention of penalties for nonobservance. Perhaps this is the crucial distinction. I don't know.

The final thing that I found intriguing is that the current perception of conflict and incompatibility between science and religion is not only notably lacking, but Washington seems to be of the opinion that faith, and the attendant blessings of Providence, will actually assist the advancement of science. This makes perfect sense to me; I believe that science and religion are not only compatible, but on a very basic level they are in fact the same thing. I believe that all truth, including that which we call science, belongs to the Gospel of Christ. However, with the evolution controversy being in its essence, an argument over the role of the Creator in the universe, I am accustomed to this being very much a minority view.

So, here's to hoping that you all had a lovely day of thanksgiving and prayer last week!

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