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Malcolm Guite relishes the General Thanksgiving, the ‘Full English’ of prayers

02 March 2018

Malcolm Guite relishes the General Thanksgiving, the ‘Full English’ of prayers

ONE of the pleasures of familiar texts, often repeated, known by heart without there ever having been a time when you consciously memorised them, is that they are richly available whenever you summon them, and they sometimes come unbidden to your mind in idle moments: while waiting for trains or buses, or on some short familiar walk.

So it was that I found the words of the General Thanksgiving praying themselves happily through me as I waited for an early-morning bus to Cambridge — a bus that, I hoped, would get me to college in time for breakfast. As this great prayer sounded through my mind, I was particularly struck by the words “most humble and hearty thanks”, and especially by the word hearty. It’s a word with some gusto and relish in it, as in the phrase “The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast.”

It set me thinking that, if thanksgivings were breakfasts, then the General Thanksgiving would not be some slender option with a little muesli and a couple of grapes; no, it would be “The Full English”! It manages to get generous helpings of almost everything on to the plate; for it is the least stingy, the most inclusive of prayers. I love all its alls: “all mercies”, “all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men”, “all the blessings of this life”, “all honour and glory”.

I relish the fact that it is a “both/and” kind of prayer rather than the more parsimonious “either/or” option. I savour all those lovely doublings, like double helpings in a generous B&B: “the means of grace and the hope of glory”, “not only with our lips, but in our lives”. Why choose between “the means of grace” and “the hope of glory” when there’s room for both on the plate? Yes, this prayer’s main ingredient is a thanksgiving for eternal salvation, but it also contains generous side servings of creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, which is just what you need to work up an appetite and prepare the palate for “the inestimable love” and the “redemption” that are waiting for you when you’ve finished the blessings of this life.

The difference, of course, is that when it comes to breakfast you can, I regret to say, have too much of a good thing, but you can never have too much thanksgiving. A hearty breakfast might leave you a little weighted and ponderous, but a hearty thanksgiving tends to lighten your step, and give you edge and appetite for all that the day might bring.

If thanksgivings were breakfasts. . . I was just pursuing this idea a little further, wondering whether the Scottish grace “Some hae meat and cannae eat . . .” might be a kind of porridge, and whether the “Benedictus benedicat”, which is our college grace, might be something classic, but still lighter — say, Eggs Benedict — when I noticed that my bus had arrived, for which I gave humble and hearty thanks.

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