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Thanksgiving literature

November 24, 2011

Rachel Barenblat aka The Velveteen Rabbi has posted Thanksgiving poems by Lee Rudolph, by Bruce Weigl, by Harriet Maxwell Converse “Translated from a traditional Iroquois prayer,” and by Heid E. Erdrich.  Here’s one today by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

Barenblat has inspired me to post something today. I’ve been reading Annie Dillard’s works, and below I post a bit from her (originally from her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which is excerpted in the Annie Dillard Reader).

What’s your favorite literature around the American Thanksgiving holiday? I’m not sure you even have to be from or in the USA to appreciate it.

Here is Dillard’s thanksgiving literature:

There is the wave breast of thanksgiving — a catching God’s eye with the easy motions of praise — and a time for it. In ancient Israel’s rites for a voluntary offering of thanksgiving, the priest comes before the altar in clean linen, empty-handed. Into his hands is placed the breast of the slain unblemished ram of consecration: and he waves it as a wave offering before the Lord. The wind’s knife has done its work. Thanks be to God.


In addition to the wave breast of thanksgiving, in which the wave breast is waved before the Lord, there is another voluntary offering, performed at the same time. In addition to the wave offering of thanksgiving, there is the heave shoulder. The wave breast is waved before the altar of the Lord; the heave shoulder is heaved. What I want to know is this: Does the priest heave it at the Lord? Does he throw the shoulder of the ram of consecration — a ram that, before the priest slew and chunked it, had been perfect and whole, not “Blind or broken, or maimed, or having a wen, or scurvy, or scabbed . . . bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut” — does he hurl it across the tabernacle, between the bloodied horns of the altar, at God? Now look what you made me do. And then he eats it. This heave is a violent, desperate way of catching God’s eye. It is not inappropriate. We are people; we are permitted to have dealings with the creator and we must speak up for the creation. God look at what you’ve done to this creature, look at the sorrow, the cruelty, the long damned waste! Can it possibly, ludicrously, be for this that on this unconscious planet with my innocent kind I play softball all spring, to develop my throwing arm? How high, how far, could I heave a little shred of frog shoulder at the Lord? How high, how far, how long until I die?


Emerson saw it. “I dreamed that I floated at will in the great Ether, and I saw this world floating also not far off, but diminished to the size of an apple. Then an angel took it in his hand and brought it to me and said, ‘This must thou eat.’ And I ate the world.” All of it. All of it intricate, speckled, gnawed, fringed, and free. Israel’s priests offered the wave breast and the heave shoulder together, freely, in full knowledge, for thanksgiving. They waved, they heaved, and neither gesture was whole without the other, and both meant a wide-eyed and keen-eyed thanks. Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, said the bell. A sixteenth-century alchemist wrote of the philosopher’s stone, “One finds it in the open country, in the village and in the town. It is in everything which God created. Maids throw it on the street. Children play with it.” The giant water bug ate the world. And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says “Glory,” and my right foot says “Amen”: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2011 4:06 pm

    My favorite Thanksgiving poem — “Take an Indian to Lunch”

  2. November 25, 2011 4:14 pm

    Well, that’s something, Theophrastus. LOL.

    Needless to say, the luncheon there under the trees was a great success, and a good time was had by Puritan and Indian alike. Everything came of beautifully with the exception of one minor catastrophe.

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