“We thank you, our Father, for all the provisions made for the needs of the bodies and souls of men, for the ordered course of nature and for the miracle of the harvest by which our life is sustained. Teach us to distribute to all according to their need what you have intended for their sustenance. We thank you for our physical life, with its strength and gladness, and for the glimpses of the eternal which shine through human joys and woes. We praise you for the human mind and its power to survey the world in its length and breadth, and for the infinities of thought and truth which carry our imagination far beyond our comprehension. We thank you, too, that the world which exceeds our comprehension is not lost in mystery, but that through seers and saints, and finally Jesus Christ, we have been given light upon the meaning of the mystery which surrounds you. Grant us grace to walk in humility and gratitude before you.”
-Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), American preacher, teacher and theologian
Few people in the last 100 years have had a more profound influence than Reinhold Niebuhr on how the Christian faith interacts with the realities of the world.
His critiques of so-called Christian civilization and the behavior of both nations and individuals tended to shake, even shatter, the foundations of conventional religious thinking. His books like “Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic,” “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” “The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defence,” “Faith and History: A Comparison of Christian and Modern Views of History,” and many others, reveal a man deeply committed to honest thinking.
His prayers reveal another dimension of his honesty: a man of deeply convicted faith resting on profound thanksgiving for the material as well as the spiritual gifts from God.
The approach of Thanksgiving week focuses all citizens on a sense of providence and provision coming from beyond our hands and understood through the stirrings of inner, unseen realities.
Niebuhr was always specifically, particularly Christian in his worldview, and he was simultaneously aware of a unique, required responsivenss from all people of faith for the “… provisions made for the needs of the bodies and souls of men, for the ordered course of nature and for the miracle of the harvest by which our life is sustained …”
Niebuhr captures the essence of the Thanksgiving season in that eloquent prayer phrase.
Gratitude underpins who we are as a nation, and it is the historic focus of our only national, interfaith religious holiday.
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