How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:1–5 (NIV)
Living as an American in the UK, for me high days and holy days bring not only joy but a corresponding ache as I’m away from family and friends. But I experience the most profound longing on Thanksgiving, which this year is next week on Thursday. I feel the loss of the nation gathered to feast around a table heaving with turkey, stuffing and gravy and of enjoying the friendship and lively conversation that ensues. Of course I understand why my now-countrypeople don’t celebrate this holiday – after all, the Pilgrims were giving thanks for escaping religious persecution in England. And such is the friendship between the countries now that we attend a service at St Paul’s Cathedral each year. And yet the longing remains.
Living today, I enjoy a mobility never imagined by the Pilgrims. My seven-hour airplane ride is a blip compared with their five-month journey across the choppy Atlantic in 1620. After they survived their first harsh winter, they invited the Native Americans who had helped them acclimate to join in a three-day feast of Thanksgiving. And so the tradition began, being solidified when in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving each November.
Psalm 84 reflects the greater ache that all pilgrims harbor – for sweet fellowship with God. Our experiences of love, community, belonging, and celebration are rooted in his character. And our longings for these experiences are a harbinger of what is to come when we are reunited with God in heaven.
For reflection: “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
I write about these longings and how I found God, and myself, in Britain in Finding Myself in Britain: Our Search for Faith, Home & True Identity.