Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons.
November 18, 2018 – Happy Thanksgiving!
Several years ago my sis and I created an entirely vegan Thanksgiving menu! If you’re interested, you can check it out here. I especially recommend our Dad’s cranberry pudding (a traditional British style pudding (pictured on the red plate). It’s amazing…
What are your plans for the holiday? Jeremy and I are planning a relaxed day with my folks (instead of the traditional fare we’re having a pasta bar!). (And pie, of course.) 😉
As you’re preparing to cook or feast or travel or work or rest, I offer you a short sermon on the nature of gratitude featuring the beautiful writing of poet David Whyte. May it enrich your celebrations!
Gratitude is a Quality of Being
I love tradition and ritual. I love the practice of marking time. So you might assume that I love holidays. But I don’t. Because sadly, many of our holidays have become events of stress and consumerism. Thanksgiving—a holiday with both a charming and troubling origin story—was always my favorite growing up. At its very best, Thanksgiving was about harvest and nourishment. It was a celebratory feast where the entire community could gather and enjoy the fruits of their hard labor. One last hurrah before heading into winter. But most of us—except maybe the farmers among us—don’t have this relationship to food and seasons anymore. Our grocery stores have pretty much the same offerings in January as they do in June. So Thanksgiving isn’t a final feast. It’s just a feast! Rather than celebrating the fruits of our labor, we’re all searching for new and clever ways to make green bean casserole! (and I love me some green bean casserole). And, many of us (did your mom make you do this?) are going around the table and sharing what we’re grateful for.
Gratitude has become a common place practice. I mean, how many times have we all been asked to keep a gratitude journal? If somehow you’ve never tried it you should. They’re useful. But as we prepare to gorge ourselves on stuffing and pie this week, I would love to dig a little deeper into the idea of gratitude.
In his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, poet David Whyte explores gratitude in some compelling ways. He begins by saying that:
“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.”
There are several important points here. First, he’s saying that gratitude is active not passive. Gratitude is a quality of being. Not a platitude. Gratitude isn’t just sitting back and saying “oh I’m glad I have this.” It’s a way of understanding yourself in relationship with all that is. He continues:
“Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.”
We are part of something. We exist! What a miraculous and strange thing. Existence is certainly not a given. It’s actually somewhat of a mystery. I’ve been wondering about the philosophical question “why is there something rather than nothing?” for years. When I say that gratitude is a quality of being, not a platitude, this is what I mean. Life, even when it’s hard, is an inexplicable gift—or as David Whyte might say, an inexplicable privilege. He continues:
“We sit at the table as part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege.”
In Eastern tradition it is considered a great boon to be born a human being. While I don’t subscribe to a fully human-centered worldview, I understand the privilege of my existence. And I am grateful for my ability to be curious about the world around me and to participate in this life in meaningful ways. David Whyte ends his mediation about gratitude by saying:
“Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.”
So this Thanksgiving I’ll ask you to do something that really, I ask you to do everyday, pay attention. Cultivate the quality of gratitude by remembering your fundamental privilege of Being. Take a moment to look around the world with awe. There is something. This world exists.
What shall we do with this gift?
- Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? If so, what did you gain from the experience?
- What do you think of the idea that gratitude is an active practice not a passive response?
- Have you ever wondered why there is something rather than nothing?
- How do you feel about the holidays? What emotions arise for you this time of year?
We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What are your Thanksgiving traditions? How do you practice gratitude?