Belfast Telegraph

Alf McCreary: Angel of Thanksgiving should remind us to believe in a brighter future for all

Spiritual power: The Angel of Thanksgiving, overlooking the River Lagan
Spiritual power: The Angel of Thanksgiving, overlooking the River Lagan
Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

It is good to know that a replica of the Angel of Thanksgiving, the stunning Belfast sculpture, will be sailing the high seas in the Azamara Pursuit liner, which has been refurbished in the city's harbour.

The outstanding sculpture, by Scottish artist Andy Scott, was completed in 2007 and stands impressively in the small Thanksgiving Square, overlooking the River Lagan, near Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

It has been given various titles, including the Lady of Thanksgiving, the Beacon of Hope, and - with typical Belfast humour - the Belle on the Ball, and Nuala With the Hula.

However, the true title is the Angel of Thanksgiving, and the sculpture, which looms over the Lagan waterfront, is meant to be a reminder of the spiritual power of gratitude.

It was the idea of Myrtle Smith, who was a member of the Christian Science Church in Belfast.

Myrtle was a great friend of mine, and for some years I was a member of a large, like-minded group of people of different faiths and denominations who worked hard to make the visionary idea become a reality.

The sculpture was based on a similar concept in Dallas, Texas, and I recall their Thanksgiving Square when I visited that vibrant city with the then Belfast Lord Mayor, Ian Adamson, the then town clerk, Brian Hanna, and the Duke of Abercorn, the chairman of the Laganside Corporation, which spearheaded the marvellous regeneration of Belfast Harbour.

The thanksgiving project was established in Dallas because the concept of thanksgiving is part of American culture, and is best exemplified by the November Thanksgiving Day. This is a special family occasion, perhaps second only to Christmas Day.

However, the idea of thanksgiving is more difficult to promote in Northern Ireland, partly because many people here are more prone to criticising than giving thanks.

If you doubt this, listen each day to the Stephen Nolan and William Crawley shows on BBC Radio Ulster.

These are two first-class presenters, and they keep well on top of current affairs here.

On one level, their programmes are a safety valve. They allow people to vent their frustrations in public and also to learn more about subjects of crucial importance, not least the RHI scandal, which shows local politics at its ugliest.

However, I wonder sometimes if our endless complaints - many of which are heard on these and other programmes -do more harm than good.

I believe that our constant harking back to the wrongs of the past is sapping our creative energies and blocking our best efforts to build a better future together.

The Angel of Thanksgiving is based on deeply spiritual values, and there are many exhortations in the Bible to express our gratitude for the blessings we have. This, in turn, helps us to face the many challenges of daily life.

You might ask, what have we to be thankful for in Northern Ireland? You could take the negative view that local politics is toxic and that people are fed up of being messed about by our politicians.

However, you could also express gratitude that the awful blood-letting of the Troubles has stopped.

Perhaps it is only those of us who lived and worked through the worst of those times who can remember how bad they were.

Take another example of thankfulness in action. There are daily headlines about the inadequacies of the NHS, and many of the criticisms are justified.

However, many of us, myself included, are grateful for the work of doctors, nurses and others who look after most of us so well when we need help.

But so it goes on and on, and we tend to dwell on what is wrong. Do you ever think about what this place could be if we all looked for what we have in common, and counted our collective blessings in doing so?

Alas, I already hear the diehard cynics muttering darkly about pie in the sky, but let's all try and be a little more thankful and find out how we can change life for the better.

The Angel of Thanksgiving stands gloriously, reminding us of a better way.

Thankfully, she is not isolated or alone. She has more friends than you might imagine.

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