In my Webster’s dictionary, circa the year I graduated from high school: 1997, under the word Thanksgiving it states: 1. The act of giving thanks 2. A prayer expressing gratitude and 3. The fourth Thursday in November observed as a legal holiday for giving thanks for divine goodness. That last one is my favorite. I love that it stipulates how Thanksgiving is a legal holiday for the express purpose to give thanks for divine goodness.
Not only is Thanksgiving my favorite holiday but it’s also the only holiday I choose to celebrate throughout the year. And a big part of that has to do with how Thanksgiving focuses on togetherness and gratitude. There’s of course a feast we share as well, which helps to celebrate the bounty of the seasons but there’s no other consumeristic focus, and I really resonate with that aspect of things.
Last night, I was invited to take part in a Thanksgiving eve interfaith prayer service at First Presbyterian Church here in town, as a faith leader and Buddhist representative, and I was asked to do a reading with Father Rich Perry from St. Francis Xavier Church. In the interest of brevity, I’d like to share the portions that I read:
We give thanks for this world created in beauty even as we remember how fires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes cause devastation and destruction. We give thanks for those who first respond: medical personnel, fire fighters, volunteers, neighbors and strangers even as we remember the work of rebuilding and restoration continues. Open our eyes to care for this world created in beauty.
We give thanks for strangers who became lifesavers even as we remember all who carry the scars of terror, violence and assault. We give thanks for the all who welcome strangers with gracious hospitality even as we remember the many refugees who are fleeing for their lives. Make a way, where there seems to be no way.
We give thanks for this Thanksgiving Eve where people of faith have gathered to pray and remember those who this day are searching for food, or housing, or friendship, or hope. Spur our grateful hearts to share our resources and hope with others.
As part of the service last night, Laurie Franklin, the Rabbincal Intern at Har Shalom, shared about the two main types of gratitude: transactional and consecrationary. Transactional gratitude, she said, is more obligatory and based on a quid-pro-quo and consecrationary gratitude involves developing it into a practice and way of being – of cultivating gratitude as a way of life and growing into it more and more and more. Of really seeing and understanding how gratitude is a choice and that it takes active and ongoing practice. And when it’s strengthened, gratitude has the capacity to enable us to transcend disappointments, and even pain and hardship to some degree.
It’s easy to gloss over the depth of what gratitude has to offer in both a spiritual capacity and in the quality of life department. I’ve written and shared in teaching talks over the past few years about the importance of developing an ongoing gratitude practice and I encourage folks to do what I myself do and find helpful, which is to pause before eating a meal, in order to say a few words of thanks – to connect with the causes and conditions that came together and made the plate of food in front of you possible. To do this as an ongoing and every day practice is no small act – it is a potent undertaking. I use two different main verbages in this regard. In the mornings, before eating breakfast, I say to myself:
The food is the gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, and much hard work. May I keep my compassion alive by remembering that there are many people who will not have enough to eat today, who will suffer and die from starvation and malnutrition. May I accept this food with gratitude and reverence for the life I am afforded.
For lunch and dinner I state simply:
The food is the gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
I have a couple of other daily gratitude practices I do as well but this one is a great start. It’s worth mentioning here, too, that my extended version that I say in the mornings may be too heavy for you to take on just yet and that makes sense. So, please find the words that make the most sense and are most supportive for your own situation. The breakfast verse I use I came up with myself, based on a variety of influences, and I do see it as more of an advanced practice. So if it’s too heavy or surfaces too much pain for you it’s probably not quite the time to go in its direction. We often need to first create a strong foundation in gratitude before we start picking up and incorporating elements of hardship or despair.
The quality of our relationship with gratitude determines the quality of our relationship will everything else, really. There is no separation between our state of gratitude and how we perceive and experience the world around us.
I’d like to end with something I wrote in my journal early this morning:
Today, my oven will fulfill its manufactured destiny by staying ablaze all day, in its pursuit of hatching a 19-pound turkey. Today is one of the only two days of the year where grocery stores close during daylight hours and people young and old flock to see their family near and far. Today is specially crafted and tailored for sounding the bells of remembrance to gather joyfully together, to revel in the bounty of the seasons toil as we enfold ourselves into winter’s call to rest, and to submerge ourselves fully in the fragrant waters of gratitude for all the things, people, and places that make this life unbelievably spectacular and rich.