In my sermon last Sunday I asked us to reconsider Thanksgiving beyond the genocide that the mythic feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. I really believe we can go beyond the myth to a greater reason to give thanks. To do so will require us to give thanks even for those who are different than us.
To move to a greater Thanksgiving requires empathy. Look around you and see the reflection of yourself in others eyes. And then see their eyes. This is what the wisdom literature teaches us: seek first to understand and then be understood. As the great Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” (From Living a Life That Matters)
I have been working on celebrating a thanksgiving more along the lines of Rabbi Kushner: To remove the holiday from its genocidal myth and see it as our most spiritual of secular holidays, a time to give thanks for what is good in life. Even when so much of life is not good. If I were more of a theist I might say Thanksgiving is the day I say thanks to God — or as Ann LaMotte put it, “of all the three essential prayers (Help, Wow, and Thanks) thanks is the most important by the very fact we are still alive…. Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into our behavior.” (Adapted from Help Thanks Wow)
I keep a gratitude journal as a spiritual practice. Every few days I write down what I am thankful for. The list is long. I think if I kept an Ungratitude Journal it would be a lot shorter. Thanksgiving is the time of the year when we should pull the gratitude journal out.
Whether you celebrate thanksgiving or not, the fact remains that we live and make meaning in a world of increasing plurality; a vast sea of differences that makes us white, black, brown, rich, poor, conservative, progressive, gay or straight or Trans. This Thanksgiving I suggest we embrace the larger world with equanimity; an old-fashioned word that means accepting the world with calmness and compassion, starting with ourselves.
By way of Thanksgiving Blessing I offer this from Roshi Joan Halifax, a Buddhist meta prayer:
May I offer care and presence without conditions, knowing they may be met with gratitude, anger or indifference.
May I find the inner resources to truly be able to give.
May I remain at peace and let go of expectations.
May I offer love, knowing I can’t control the course of life, suffering or death.
I care about your pain, yet cannot control it.
I wish you happiness and peace, but cannot make choices for you.
May I see my limits compassionately, just as I view the limitations of other
Happy Thanksgiving, Rev. John