Dr. RB McFee
Prayer steps to Christ at La Salette Shrine, Attleboro, Mass, ©La Salette photo from https://www.facebook.com/nationalshrine.lasalette/photos
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18
As readers of my prior Thanksgiving blogs will recall I usually talk about my pre-Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Plymouth, Massachusetts to hang out with the Wampanoags and the first settlers from the Old World, who after enduring a difficult winter, by the Grace of God and the goodness of their neighbors, survived and, in celebration shared in a multiday feast.
No doubt the leaders of the pilgrims and Wampanoags offered blessings and prayers over the meals. It was well known that Native Peoples as well as Puritans, Pilgrims and most Christians offered a form of “grace” or acknowledged a Divine, or Great Spirit as Provider.
And that autumn as both cultures brought an amazing array of food, at least according to early accounts of the day, it would have been both natural, and right to be grateful for the provision they enjoyed.
As a result, our current Thanksgiving imagery is based upon the writings of the first settlers describing this feast, and it has catalyzed a national sensibility we have celebrated in one fashion or another for a very long time in the United States.
And though I did drive the Pilgrim’s Highway this year, my thoughts and prayers led me to a different experience in preparation for Thanksgiving.
This year I decided it was time for an additional tradition – and it would take place at a location not even remotely envisioned in 1620….La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
La Salette is one of the most peaceful and prayerful places you could imagine. Which may seem contradictory considering it also has one of the most beautiful, supersized, and brightly lighted Christmas displays in the region. People drive miles upon miles to enjoy the displays – mostly religious, as well as music, special events, food, and sense of Christ’s Presence.
Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any time of year, it is a sanctuary in the midst of a tiny town that is well worth visiting.
Driving into the large parking lot – surrounded by woods, various chapels, and other buildings, if you look closely, you will see in the distance Jesus Crucified – a beautifully sculpted cross with Jesus looking down at the foot of a very long stairway, and surrounded by angels, protected by a canopy of stately trees (see photo above).
It is that stairway – the prayer stairway – that has become my new Thanksgiving tradition.
This may sound curious, right?
There is a story about the stairs that Jesus took to meet Pontius Pilate, and as legend goes they were moved to a religious site for safe keeping. La Salette has created a long stairway in homage to this tradition – approximately 60 steps leading to Christ on the Cross. And the last 30+ steps are covered in a form of outdoor carpet so that people can safely, if able to do so, ascend on their knees.
Whether by Holy Spirit inspiration or remembering the tradition of the steps, I thought it appropriate, especially during Thanksgiving season to thank God for something He blessed me with – one per step.
My first “thank You God for” was God Himself. Then Jesus, then the Holy Spirit. Just for Them, in and of Themselves. From there I thanked God for the ability to pray directly to Him; a gift paid for by the blood of Jesus, Emmanuel – God Himself bleeding for me.
Each step another “thank You God for….” Before I knew it, I was at the Feet of Jesus and needing a lot more stairs.
And here’s the thing – after 60+ steps, almost every “thank You God for….” had to do with something spiritual, relational with God or the gifts of the Holy Spirit, for things that can’t be wrapped in a box - loved ones, friendships provided.
It’s not that I won the lottery or have zillions stashed away that I ran out of ‘thank you steps’ but that I had charged myself to focus on God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, on Graces and the Presence of God and His daily gifts that transcend physical, tangible things, in my gratitude, my “thank You God for….” words directed Above.
When you sit down and think about the rainbow you saw out of nowhere, after a really rough day, or the unexpected phone call from a friend ‘just because you suddenly were placed on their heart’ or a song rarely played on the radio, or iHeart station, only to fly through the airwaves because it reminded of happy times and was a comforting piece of music…..and you realize that was God saying “I’m here for you.” After such gifts, do we take a moment, take a step, and thank Him?
Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the blessings God has given – recovery of health, the presence of family, a warm home, a good job.
This is especially true if you have your health, family nearby to surround you in love, enough to purchase food for the Thanksgiving dinner, and people to share it with.
But far more importantly than these are – worth gratitude to be sure, especially since many in our midst do not have family nearby, or someone to share the day, or provisions if they did – is the notion we have a God Who is the Force behind, and Benefactor of our blessings, and is by our side always.
To that we give thanks.
Praise is perhaps best conveyed through gratitude and thanksgiving. In fact, giving thanks to God is both fundamental – gratitude is mentioned over 150 times in the Bible, giving thanks over 70 times – and essential to acknowledging God in our lives. And it is right.
Sadly it seems both the words “thank you” and “thank you notes” have gone out of style in the last few years. But when we acknowledge a gift doesn’t have to be given, yet it was, we have done far more than recognize a kind act – we celebrate the effort in the giving, and the love behind it,.
Jesus died for us, died so we can have direct access to our Creator, the Animating Power that gives us life and the ability to love, laugh, enjoy and be part of this great existence. God came down as mortal to share our human experience. The Holy Spirit was gifted to us to connect our mortality to God’s Divine Love. And every single day we get to reach out and reach for our Creator.
These are worthy of a daily “thank You God for….”
So my new Thanksgiving tradition will involve the “thank you steps” of La Salette, and at my house. I’m gonna use steps as a reminder to say a quick “thank You God for….” And like any worthy spiritual pursuit, if we stay the course, we end up facing Christ. Does it get any better?
My wish for you dear reader is that you have more “thank You God for….” than steps to say them on, and that we are daily mindful of this simple question….
How many ‘thanksgiving steps’ do we need?
God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving and beyond.