Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving Thanks

Lately, I am late.  That is to say, I haven't been timely.  I have thought about things to say about current events, but it seems these "things to say" occur to me after the moment of interest has passed.

So it is with Thanksgiving, which was yesterday.

It seems to me that thanksgiving is an art.  It is not as easy as it looks, and even harder to do well.  So, many of my friends have been posting one thing each day that they are grateful for, and others have not participated because they fear a sort of gluttony of gratitude, where the thanksgivings begin looking more and more like those Christmas letters you receive where it seems that the whole family, including the dog, has been airbrushed.  (There is an art to those yearly Christmas letters, as well, but, that's a topic for another day.)  None of the thanksgivings I have read this year sounded airbrushed to me.  One of my friends did make me laugh one day.  She was on her 44th day of thanksgiving (she took a slightly longer time frame than the rest of us), and she gave thanks that she had not been abducted by aliens during the past year.

Like I said, thanksgiving is an art.  It's not as easy as it looks.  It is even harder to do well, and keep doing, every single day.  Five things come to mind that help:

1.  Creativity.  It helps to have a skewed view of the world, where you can be grateful that you were not abducted by aliens, for example.  It helps to be able to stand on your head as well, sometimes, at least figuratively.  Yesterday at thanksgiving dinner there were a number of adults of all ages, but only one small child.  But she set a place for her imaginary friend, Dora.  So I give thanks for her, and her friend, and the small yellow plate at the end of the table.

2.  Mindfulness.  It helps to pay attention, although it is no mean feat in this busy and distracting world of ours.  Sometimes, though, the distractions that feed gratitude, as when a woman came into my office this morning in tears, asking me to pray for her and her family.  Then I was grateful that I was in the office, grateful for the gift of tears, even grateful for my own grieving that helped me to be present with her.

3.  Simplicity.  Rather than the big things, give thanks for little things, both seen and unseen:  a cup of tea, the color green, air, an old photograph.  Take time to taste, to smell, to see, to hear, to touch.  I sometimes realize that I eat without really tasting my food, after the first bite, much less taking time to give thanks for it.  It is sort of ironic given the fact that every meal begins with saying grace.

4.  Empathy. Can we give thanks in such a way that it doesn't sound like we are so grateful that we are not in someone else's shoes?  Be grateful for a home, and then work to end homelessness.  Be grateful for your thanksgiving table, and work to end hunger.  It also helps to widen our circles of relationships and hear stories from people we do not yet know.

5.  Honesty.  There are days when it is really hard to give thanks, days when you know you have let someone else down, or someone has let you down, when you are more aware of deficiencies than your gifts, when pain is raw and beauty is overcast with grief.  Thanksgiving that does not acknowledge all of our lives is not true, or really gracious.

Thanksgiving is an art.  I am not sure that I am very good at it.  But I will try to keep my eyes peeled, by ears and my heart open, my hands empty.

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