You know I’ve heard from many of you that today is your favorite holiday. Today, Thanksgiving Day. And for many parishioners at St. Peter’s, even some who aren’t here because they’re traveling or home this morning tending their birds, this is a favorite holiday, too. And maybe that’s because there’s really only one thing we have to do today.
I know there are retail folk who are opening today but we can ignore that insanity. The agenda for today is really very simple: just to offer thanks. Maybe watch a little football or take a walk, help out with the community meal here or with the dishes back home. But really the agenda is to rest and be thankful. How life-giving is that!
This is the day all Americans are invited to
- step off the treadmill,
- put away the cellphone,
- close the laptop,
- and take a fresh look at our lives and our beautiful world.
- So that we can return to that original posture of the Holy One,
- who at the beginning of creation surveyed it all and said,
- “Behold, it is good.”
It IS good, but it often requires a kind of returning to this posture of thanksgiving for us to remember that it is indeed good.
Fr. Kenyon, a former rector of this parish, did us all a great favor in 1946, in the wake of World War II with so many losses, of establishing the tradition of this particular service at St. Peter’s. We now follow in the footsteps of people who, time and again, ritually have chosen to return to gratitude, even in times of unimaginable adversity and hardship.
The pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony suffered enormous losses in 1620 and 1621 with every single family bereaved; half of the colonists were dead after their first winter. And still, remarkably, they chose a day of thanksgiving. They could have chosen a day of mourning with half of them dead, but they chose to focus on the fact that half of them were still alive.
Two and a half centuries later in the midst of Civil War, no one would have faulted President Lincoln if he were to declare a national day of mourning, but in 1863 with no victory in sight and an unruly cabinet, Lincoln instead proclaimed this day to be our national day of Thanksgiving.
Today, the Dakota Sioux are holding a day of Thanksgiving – quite apart from folks serving the protesters a meal, the Sioux themselves have opted for a day of thanksgiving. Why?
Because the pilgrims, Lincoln, the folks from Standing Rock know something that you and I all know, too: that in times of hardship and adversity what can happen is that our usual center of gravity can shift
- so that our whole lives begin to revolve around what is wrong,
- around our misfortune, our misery.
- This sort of shift is completely natural, and we would be foolish to deny the importance of grieving and mourning.
- But when our center of gravity is hardship and grief, we can literally begin to feel life draining out of us.
And what we need are ways to help us return back to our true center of gravity, which is God. We need to remember that the same God who brought us into this world is preparing for every person more than we could ask or imagine.
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Part of the challenge of that kind of spiritual re-centering is that so often when we think of thanksgiving, we think of gratitude as a feeling, or an emotion. But gratitude, real thanksgiving is not about feelings, it’s about doing.
The New York Times had a good little article a couple of years ago about the effects of living with gratitude. And it got this action point right.
The author, John Tierney, suggested ways of practicing gratitude. Maybe you already do some of these:
- It suggests that if you’re down in the dumps or are facing some kind of problem, try jotting down five things for which you’re grateful.
- Just put one sentence for each thing.
- If you just do this once a week, over, a few months, you’ll see a change.
- early on in our relationship my spouse and I would try to get over a rough patch by stopping and sharing, “what three things are you grateful for in the other person.” It’s hard to stay mad for long.
- some people like to “make a gratitude visit”
- Think of a person for whom you’re grateful.
- Think about what you might say to the person.
- And then visit him or her in person, and tell them what you’ve been thinking.
- In a tight bind with not much time for planning, adopt the triage gratitude posiyion: it could be worse
- when your aunt shows you pictures on her iPad, be thankful she no longer has access to a slide projector
- when your uncle expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that he does not hold elected office
- turkey is dry? be grateful the 6-hr roasting process killed any toxic bacteria
- Thanksgiving can be doing something as simple as sending a note, making a call, giving something away
- btw, when we usually think about giving things away, we think about clothes or tools or books,
- but maybe what some of us need is to give away is the need to always be right or to have the last word.
- Or, like the Dakota Sioux, you can “do thanksgiving” by making eucharist together. That’s right, they, like us, are coming together to make eucharist around Christ’s table
- with friends and family and with perfect strangers we make eucharist
- to align our hearts with God
- to rediscover our true center of gravity
- so that we can say with the Holy One, “Behold, it is good.”