Giving thanks in old ways

If your Thanksgiving feast leaves you exhausted, here’s an idea you might want to contemplate for next year.

The Virginia General Assembly in 1770 passed an Act to set “days of public fasting and humiliation or thanksgiving” throughout the state.

Under this act, all ministers of the Gospel were to hold divine service and preach a sermon “suited to the occasion” on these days – or pay a fine. Hmmm. Well, this was almost two decades before the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

But Virginia’s approach of “public fasting and humiliation” seems worthy of consideration.

Fasting, not feasting.

When you think about it, it’s a little odd that we overindulge on the day when we are expressing gratitude. Feasting is not exactly humble.

Fasting is more “suited to the occasion” of giving thanks for all we have. Fasting is a way to stop, slow down, and focus on the spiritual.

Going hungry for a day or two gives us compassion for those who go without so many things.

A pause in consumption is an offering of food.

Fasting as a way of thanksgiving could help us understand better just how fortunate we really are.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for a prayer or reading to set the mood at your Thanksgiving table today, here are the words of George Washington in 1789:

That we may then all unite in rendering unto [the Supreme Being] our sincere and humble thanks, for the kind care and protection of the People of this country … for the great degree of tranquillity, 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, … 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… and beseech [God] 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 promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase 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.

This is from Washington’s proclamation of the first-ever Thanksgiving holiday. 

The words resonate even now, in the United States of 2016.

Today’s penny is a 1989, the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution taking effect, and the first Thanksgiving proclamation.