Rooted in Abundance: Thanksgiving and the “Giveaway”
The Book of Common Prayer has a Collect for Thanksgiving Day that reads as follows:
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Recently, a council of leaders, pastors, and scholars from a variety of Native North American tribes and communities worked to produce the First Nations Version of the New Testament. This indigenous translation helps others of us to recognize the way a white, Euro-centric lens has impacted translations of our sacred texts, which themselves emerged in an ancient, near-eastern context over hundreds of years. I commend it to you for your own devotional reading.
One of the appointed readings for this day (again, from the Book of Common Prayer) is from 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, and I include the text here from this translation and offering it as a way to challenge you this Thanksgiving–a day which itself is not seen or revered similarly between those of European descent and many Native Americans. Almost all of us live on land that was taken by European settlers from the various indigenous tribes that lived in the Americas. Thanksgiving is a day that ought to challenge our sense of ownership, possession, and giving, and this passage does just that for us.
Remember this saying: The one who plants only a few seeds will harvest a small crop. The one who plants many seeds will harvest a large crop. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give. You should not feel forced to give out of guilt because someone is shaming you for not giving. For the Great Spirit loves it when people give with glad hearts. Creator has the power to use the gift of all his great kindness to provide more than enough for all that you need at all times. In this way you will have plenty to help others, just as it says in our Sacred Teachings, “He filled many giveaway blankets with gifts to the poor. his right ways will bring honor to him beyond the end of all days.”
The one who gives seed for planting and good food for eating will make your seeds grow into a great harvest for doing what is right. His blessing will rest on you in every way so that you can always be a blessing to others. In this way, the gift you give to us for others will bring honor and thanks to the Great Spirit. This sacred task of giving not only helps the poor among Creator’s holy people in Village of Peace (Jerusalem), but it also inspires many people to give praise to the Great Spirit. Your willingness to follow through with this sacred task of giving shows that your faithfulness to the good story of the Chosen One goes beyond words. Your freely given gift to them and to all will bring honor to Creator. With deep feelings for you they will send their voice to the Great Spirit, for they have seen the gift of Creator’s great kindness at work in you. Give thanks to the Great Spirit for the gift that goes beyond our weak ways of speaking!
Did you notice that phrase: “giveaway blankets”? The “Giveaway” or “Potlatch” ceremonies have various expressions throughout many different indigenous communities. They all share a similar practice and intent: the members of a family place nearly all of their belongings, especially their most prized possessions, on blankets as a true gift to the entire community.
Then, after prayers of thanksgiving for these gifts, the appointed members of the community give back some of those gifts to the family, while also ensuring that the needs of others in the community are met. Sometimes people in need are invited to come and take what they most need.
What an incredible and counter-cultural picture of a deep belief in abundance. The interpreters of this translation tapped into a significant cultural practice of giving amongst native peoples by naming the “giving blanket” in place of “scattering abroad” gifts for the poor. This act of the Giveaway is rooted in a deep and radical belief: there is enough for everyone to have what they need, and our collective responsibility is to ensure that this is the case. We don’t give out of compulsion or guilt. But out of a deep belief that our possessions are not ours, and giving them to the community is a way to keep them from possessing us.
So, our thankfulness for the gifts of the earth and the labors of others is directly connected to our active and faithful stewardship of those gifts, especially in addressing the needs of others. Read the prayer above and this passage again. How might this passage help do the work of the prayer we pray on Thanksgiving Day: to be made into more faithful stewards of God’s great bounty?
Let us be thankful for what we have, but let us also hear a similar challenge from St. Basil:
The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.
Our Native siblings would say, yes, in fact, it all belongs to all of us, especially in accordance with our needs.
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