In a week devoted to giving thanks, I am thinking about one of the real gems that we have in the city of Dallas. Tucked away in the heart of downtown, Thanksgiving Square sits at the corner Ervay and Pacific. It is easily accessible by taking the train downtown and disembarking at the Harwood Station and walking less than two blocks. Thanksgiving Square is actually a triangular piece of property. It is an oasis of green in a grove of towering steel, glass and concrete. “The most prominent and recognizable feature of Thanksgiving Square is the Chapel of Thanksgiving, a small, spiral tower that features an enclave for prayerful thanks. The entrance to the chapel is at the end of a 125-foot bridge that runs over a cascading waterfall. Inside the chapel, the spiral is topped with stained glass “Glory Window,” one of largest horizontally mounted stained-glass pieces in the world.”
While I have been in the Chapel of Thanksgiving for public worship services through the years (cramped!), it is really much more conducive to private prayer and personal meditation. It is an intimate space with no furnishings except for a square stone altar in the center and the magnificent spiral of stained glass ascending above your head. The very best way to experience the space is on your back on the floor looking up.
If you’ve never visited Thanksgiving Square, why not schedule a visit this week? Take an hour and walk the property. Sit in the walled, well-manicured and water-coursed park, listen to the carillon bells, visit the museum and spend some quiet time in the chapel, preferably on the floor on your back looking up. Thanksgiving Square is a perfect pilgrimage destination for Thanksgiving week. It is a powerful way to remember and reclaim the centrality of the experience of thanksgiving in the spiritual life of a person of Biblical faith.
In our noon brown bag Bible Study we are slowly working our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the first chapter, in the first movement of his argument, the Apostle Paul affirmed the possibility of knowing about the Living God from the observation of the world of His creation –
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
God has two books from which He speaks to us – the book of nature and the books of the Bible. The book of nature provides us with a “General Revelation” of God, and the books of the Bible provide us with a “Special Revelation” of who God is and what God is doing. From nature we can know that God exists, that God is powerful, and that God deserves our homage. But to know that God is the three-in-one – Father, Son and Holy Spirit ~ Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – whose essential nature is self-sacrificing love we need the “Special Revelation” that we are provided with in the books of the Bible. God’s “Special Revelation” in the history of Israel and in the person and work of Jesus Christ enlarges and deepens what we know about God from His “General Revelation” in nature. Our “General” knowledge of God from creation establishes the foundation on which God’s “Special Revelation” builds. In fact, it is our response to God’s “General Revelation” in nature that makes necessary God’s further “Special Revelation“ in the history of Israel and the person and work of Jesus Christ. As Paul told the Romans –
Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
While the “General Revelation” of God in creation was sufficient for people to come to a working knowledge of God, people don’t keep faith with that knowledge. As Paul put it, “they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to God.” And the consequence of this failure to acknowledge God as God has been futile minds and foolish hearts. To get through to us, God has had to “up the ante,” increase the intensity of His self-communication, double-down on His commitment to making Himself known to us. It is the failure of God’s “General Revelation” to bring us to an obedient knowledge of God that has made God’s “Special Revelation” both necessary and urgent.
God speaks. Generally in nature, and particularly in the history of Israel and the person and work of Jesus Christ, God speaks. This is as basic a claim as any that Christianity makes. Our knowledge of God is not just a matter of our best hunches and most hopeful guesses. Faith is not the same thing as wishful thinking. The God who is there is not silent. As the author of Hebrews put it –
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
And corresponding to this fact of God’s self-disclosure is the capacity in us as human beings to receive and then to process what it is that God has said.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), one of the defining Christian theologians of the 19th century, argued that the essence of religion was the feeling of absolute dependence that we feel as human beings. Sooner or later we learn that we are not self-sufficient as human beings. We are created contingent and vulnerable beings – fully dependent on others. And all of our lesser dependencies that allow us to thrive point unswervingly to our ultimate dependency on God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. And so, what Christianity does is to take this feeling of absolute dependency that is so intrinsic to our humanity and to root it in the reality of the living, loving and speaking God to which it directly corresponds. The organ of receptivity within us that is especially sensitive to the speaking of God generally in nature and specifically in the history of Israel and the person and work of Jesus Christ is the heart that knows itself to be absolutely dependent. And the proof that a connection has been made between just such a heart and the Word of God is the response of thanksgiving. The first response that an absolutely dependent heart makes when God addresses it is to say “thank-you,” which brings us back around to where we started.
If you’ve never been to Thanksgiving Square, it’s time that you did. You need to visit Thanksgiving Square because it is a Dallas Treasure; one of the truly unique institutions in this city. But at a deeper level, you need to visit Thanksgiving Square because it gives such powerful external expression to the internal dynamics of God’s approach to humanity as it is playing out in your very own heart. A pilgrimage to Thanksgiving Square during Thanksgiving week may just be the most powerful way for you to give thanks to the God who is speaking to you. DBS+