The 1965 film classic, Shenandoah, features a memorable and outlandish prayer. With his eight children seated for dinner, the father, played by James Stewart observes, “Now, your mother wanted all of you raised as good Christians. And I might not be able to do that thorny job as well as she could, but I can do a little something about your manners.” After a forgetful and now convicted son removes his cap, Stewart then leads them in a thoroughly ungrateful prayer to God:
Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway Lord for this food we are about to eat. Amen.
Few have the gall to say it outright, but many in contemporary culture think the same as this movie father; they see themselves as “self-made” men and women. Contrast this with the proclamation of Plymouth Colony’s governor William Bradford:
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, squashes and garden vegetables, and made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from the pestilence and granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of nine and twelve in the daytime on Thursday, November ye 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Plymouth Rock, there to listen to ye Pastor and render Thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all his blessings. – Governor Bradford November 29, 1623.
May God help us to reflect the God-centered vision of Bradford, one that recognizes the Source of our various blessings, since, as James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17).