Elmore’s Department Store was one of the three more enjoyable places for a young child to visit in my small, Southern, home town. There was the Super D Five-and-Dime which had the best popcorn and hotdog stand for a hundred miles; Western Auto with its mechanical horse on the front sidewalk that one could ride for a dime; and Elmore’s.
Elmore’s had the finest selection of Matchbox cars and baseball cards available. And while Elmore’s was likely not much bigger than a closet in comparison to today’s superstores, for a youngster with a couple of dollars in his pocket, it was a shopping nirvana.
My dad took me there one Saturday afternoon and I apparently wandered away. While searching for those magical Matchboxes my three feet tall frame got lost in the clothing department, dwarfed as I was, by the towering racks of dress shirts and blue jeans.
I called for my father, “Daddy! Daddy!” Nothing. On the verge of panic I changed tactics, and started calling my father by name: “Roy! Roy!” He showed up within seconds. A hundred mothers can hear a hundred children call “Mommy” and each one will know her own. A dad is seemingly a bit denser.
There were a lot of dads in Elmore’s that day, but I needed the one with a unique name. I needed the father to whom I belonged. I needed the one who would scoop me up in his arms, and make things right again. I needed the one who was my father.
In the immediate days to come, millions of Americans will gather around bountiful tables for another annual feast of gratitude. We will gorge on turkey (about 50 million of the birds) and cranberry sauce (80 million pounds or so of the little red berries). We will cram ourselves with stuffing and pumpkin pie.
Afterwards, with the blessed luncheon weighing heavy on our tummies, many of us will collapse onto sofas barely fatter than ourselves. There we will watch football, nap from the near lethal doses of tryptophan, and fortify ourselves for a second, yea, third helping from the festive table.
Somewhere during the day, maybe a prayer will be offered; a nice little invocation. To God or the gods. Generically. An obligatory ritual that is little more than a tip stuffed quickly into the pocket of the nameless, faceless, cosmic Concierge who helped set our Thanksgiving feast.
But for many (and I hope for more of us rather than less), the prayer prayed over the November turkey will be offered in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln who first instituted this national holiday. The Great Emancipator declared, “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, to set apart a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father.”
This is no mere god to whom we pray. This is our God. This is the God to whom we belong; the One who will still scoop us up in his arms and make things right again; who will find us when we are lost. This is the beneficent Father who provides uniquely for his children.
Those of the Jewish faith have a marvelous way of spontaneously giving thanks. They exclaim, “Blessed be the Name!” They are doing much the same as I did when I was lost in that department store. They are not calling on the awkward collection of sheer constants and vowels that spell God’s name. They are calling on their distinctive God. The “Name” represents all the extraordinary goodness they have come to know about the one to whom they belong.
They know God as someone who is better to us than anyone else ever could be; someone who loves us with unconditional love; someone who welcomes us to the table without qualification or reservation; someone who provides us with what we really need; someone we can call on when we have lost our way.
For that, and so very much more, we should bow our heads in sincere thanksgiving, and bless the Name.