11/21/2012 02:19 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

Thanksgiving Riff: A Call or Call It Prayer

Where is God that we may give thanks?

Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays and not only because it's specific to our nation. It's also the one that everybody, no matter what else they believe, can get on board with. We even, for a brief moment, acknowledge the extraordinary people who called this land home before European settlers came along.

Last year, President Obama caught a lot of flak for not mentioning God in his Thanksgiving address to the nation. I understand -- "God bless America," and all that. Yet even as this nation may be "one ... under God," exactly who defines God and how is not clear. Nor should it be. This is a nation of diversity and strong because of that.

I come out of a Protestant Christian tradition, so my faith is informed by biblical traditions. Of late, I've been preoccupied by the thought that even as God is grandly other and "out there," God is dynamic with life and deeply interested in a relationship with the world. Not just a relationship, but in a desire for the world's well-being -- not grossly manipulative but allowing for the radical freedom of people to think and choose. So, this God is interested in relationships (plural), too, which leads me back to Thanksgiving.

There is something sacred in the business of giving thanks: it honors relationships, admits some humility and brings joy. Sweet, holy joy to the thank-er most of all. And the objects of our thanks -- friends, family, the good earth, health, wildness, a gentle dog -- are they not somehow, by means of some bright mystery, also the matter of an incarnate God? So how necessary, how accurate, is the word itself?

I offer this, a kind of riff. You might catch some favorite Thanksgiving Psalms (30, 95, 100) as well as allusion to Obama's 2011 address. And you'll find that "God" is absent; but not really.

For the goodness that is greater than any one of us, that each of us nevertheless can bring: For you who turn sadness to dancing, who make grievous rags into garments of joy. For you who serve in soup kitchens and classrooms, who wear the sober uniforms of arms, the lab coats of discovery, and the dirty denim of wise husbandry. That in all things you would work for Good, for Right, for Beauty, Kindness, and Truth. Thanks be!

Inhabit this great gushy land with leaping gratitude and whoops of wondering joy. Give thanks! Thank the pulsing mystery of life, shooting stars and spinning atoms, for love everlasting that cannot be bound but stains each one of us with a power divine.

Come, let us sing for what is strong and brave, for the courage to be weak, to kneel and to need. Give thanks and thanks. Amen.