Sally was one of those people who always smiled and elicited one just by being who she was. She was the first person who greeted me at my new home many years ago right after the moving truck pulled up. She welcomed me to the neighborhood with that smile and a tray of brownies. She has entered the nearer presence of God now but I think of her at this time every year.

Sally was gifted in many ways but an offering at church she made, one of the liturgical highlights, was to decorate the altar for the Thanksgiving Day service. Moderation was not in her vocabulary.

There was a great swath of fall colors – every size and color of gourds and pumpkins, leaves, sprays, and a cornucopia so overflowing I had to bow in great humility to get behind the altar. And there was always a pheasant. Not a live one but a stuffed pheasant, hidden amongst the foliage.

The pheasant, she said, was just for me. Sally probably said that to all the priests but I wanted to believe her so I did. It was there to remind me to take time to pause, give thanks and pray, and pay attention for God's presence in a very busy day and season. After the service, with a twinkle in her eye, she always asked, "Did you find the pheasant?" This was our annual ritual.

Every time I think of a proper altar decorated for divine worship and the hidden reminder that Sally lovingly placed there for me, it does make me smile and pause. No Thanksgiving altar seems complete without that symbol of a Sabbath.

I need that this time of year. We all need a subtle, or not so subtle, reminder to take a Sabbath as we approach Thanksgiving, a feast layered with meanings. There are pilgrims and natives, autumn colors, a crispness to the air, travel, being with family or missing loved ones, the end of the semester, the big shopping day, preparing for Advent and Christmas, fundraising, football, and a feast.

This is the beginning of the church season, not found in any Books of Common Prayer, that endures from just before Thanksgiving Day until just after the new year. A wise priest shared this arcane knowledge with me and declared the name of the season to be the "Christmas Crazies." I was never clear if he was referring to the time of holidays or what it does to the people. This time of heightened expectations and stress can bring out the best and the worst.

During the extended season, there are more things to do, people to visit, more family, more stress, and we all know we are supposed to feel joy, peace, and thankfulness. It is a season that can be both full of togetherness and loneliness.

What happens when the turkey is cooked all day and still isn't done? What happens when there is a family fight? Has it been a year since we all shared a meal together around the family table? Who is not there? What happens when the day does not meet the impossible expectations placed upon it?

At the beginning of this holy and hectic season, we are given an opportunity with a day set apart to pause, give thanks and pray, and pay attention for God's presence in our midst. Thankfulness is not just a feeling to have one day a year. Thankfulness is a conscious, deliberate series of choices made over time that cultivates an attitude, a life of thanksgiving. Put simply, to be thankful is a recognition and response that what God or someone is or does is noted, appreciated, makes a difference, and is valued.

A life of thanksgiving is always expressed concretely or, we might say, sacramentally. The word "Eucharist" means "thanksgiving." Thankfulness is incarnate in a word, a gift, a gesture, an offering, a note, an action, a meal, or even a stuffed pheasant and a smile.

Where or in whom is God revealed for you this season?


The Rev. Jonathon Jensen
Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, East Liberty