During America's darkest days as a nation in 1863, President Lincoln sought a way to lift public thought above war and political strife: He cemented the tradition of Thanksgiving Day. Now, 142 years later, that tradition is as needed as ever as the national debate over the Iraq war turns acidic and nasty.
Last week, uncivil comments were made by many elected leaders in Washington about the origins and the future of the Iraq conflict. Such comments hardly portend a new American civil war - Iraq is the one on the cliff of civil war, not the United States. But with personal attacks whizzing like bullets along Pennsylvania Avenue, the US is fortunate to be heading into a holiday that allows an introspective moment.
Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect on gratitude and giving during a time of sharp political splintering over Iraq. It isn't just a moment to reconnect with family and friends over a good meal. It's also a public event. And for those who rely on God for guidance in thinking about national affairs, the day serves as a reminder to be thankful for that guidance. Such gratitude creates a humility which suppresses pride and opens up expectations of further divine guidance.
In his Thanksgiving proclamation, the Calvinist Lincoln warned Americans that they had forgotten God: "We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own." He asked that God's "gracious gifts" be "acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People."