A serious, stern President-elect Barack Obama told the nation this week that he will pursue an "aggressive economic recovery plan" upon taking office. It was an attempt to inject confidence into the markets and with middle Americans.
The news has been grim as of late. We're on the verge of a recession, consumer spending is down, and unemployment is up and expected to increase. There are more bailouts as banks have gone bust, forecasts of a dark and dim holiday season, and analysts predict it will get worse before it gets better. With much of this unfolding during Thanksgiving week, one might question, what could we possibly be thankful for?
In the midst of all the doom and gloom, perhaps there is no better time to reassess what really matters. Catastrophic events tend to bring about epiphany.
Recall what happened after 9/11 - we became a nation of prayer and religious practice again. Americans flocked to their churches and synagogues. In light of the current economic turmoil, there has been a return to frugality, more time spent at home and stock taken about personal priorities. This seems welcomed after a cycle of over-confidence, over-exuberance, and selfish pursuits - more houses, more cars, more wealth, bigger vacations - that forced us to use more credit (whether we could really afford it or not).
Revisiting the "thankful" part of Thanksgiving is paramount this season.
It is a necessary reminder because not only have liberals co-opted the religious holiday to shame us out of eating, but some also seem to forget "why" we give thanks. As National Review Online editor James Robbins points out: "Animal-rights and vegan groups have traditionally criticized the annual 'Turkey genocide.' Now the themes of the ecology movement is creeping into the festivities. They don't want to see the holiday abolished, just layered with new meaning. Thanksgiving, they assert, is a time for both gratitude and responsibility." Alarm bells should sound at - "new" meaning.
The fact is, Thanksgiving was (and still is) originally a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose. It was an acknowledgement that in good times (bounty) and bad (drought) we should give thanks.
"We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty god," said Capt. John Woodleaf, one of 38 English settlers who arrived on the north bank of the James River in 1619. George Washington created the first Thanksgiving Day observance on October 3, 1789 by 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.'"
The first time the nation ever "officially" celebrated Thanksgiving Day as a holiday was the autumn of 1864. President Lincoln issued a proclamation which read like a prayer for God's blessing "to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps ... and to afford us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions." Lincoln had an awakening following the Battle of Gettysburg which led him to his newfound faith. Each president since has followed Lincoln's example. Now, as then, we find ourselves again at a time of war and economic instability. Yet, there is still much to be thankful for.
President Bush said in remarks to the APEC CEO Summit over the weekend: "Recovering from the financial crisis is going to take time. But we'll recover, and in so doing, begin a new era of prosperity." With turmoil comes turnaround and it hinges on the people's ability to believe, not just in the "cyclical" nature of process, but in a greater ability beyond our own. As Lincoln acknowledged: "I've been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go." He knew what most of us do. We can't do it alone. All the bills in Congress, executive orders and presidential proclamations won't suffice.
From the beginning of our nation, the Indians and Pilgrims and Founders alike were guided by faith and the need for an annual "giving of thanks." The research group, Wallbuilders, presents this historical account: "[W]hile the Pilgrims enjoyed times of prosperity for which they thanked God, they also suffered extreme hardships. In fact, in 1623 they experienced an extended and prolonged drought. Knowing that without a change in the weather there would be no harvest and the winter would be filled with death and starvation, Governor Bradford called the Pilgrims to a time of prayer and fasting to seek God's direct intervention. Significantly, shortly after that time of prayer – and to the great amazement of the Indian who witnessed the scene - clouds appeared in the sky and a gentle and steady rain began to fall."
Mr. Obama said Monday: "We have to do whatever is required" to keep the economy afloat. Let's hope that begins with a prayer.
Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. twall@washington times.com.