How to make Thanksgiving Really Meaningful This Year
No matter how difficult it may be in a world filled with pain and cruelty, in a world just partially recovering from the latest terrorist attacks (and mourning also all those killed not only by those the media defines as terrorists but also those who have been killed by the drones and the bombings from the militarism of many many national armies and air forces, and all those tortured by “intelligence” operatives, and all those unjustly imprisoned in the US and around the world) there are moments when it is important to stop looking only at all the problems and to dedicate some serious time to focus on all the good.
And that’s part of what Thanksgiving could be about for you this year. Life is so amazing, and our universe so awesome, filled with realities that transcend our capacity to comprehend, and inviting us to awe and wonder and radical amazement! Give yourself and your friends a day dedicated to truly feeling those kinds of feelings!
I don’t mean only a moment of sharing “something we all appreciate” during the traditional meal. That sharing can sometimes be shallow as people often feel embarrassed to deeply self-reveal in these kinds of circumstances, there are often people at the table who will turn the whole thing into a joke or otherwise resist being “real,” and the need of couples and family members to reassure each other that they love each other or some other formalistic discourse sometimes takes over (though even that can be beautiful when really meant, and far better than nothing more than eating the meal and talking about the food and the football games, etc.) Of course, if you can find a way to structure the discussion, perhaps even by reading this note to people at your meal, you may get people to go deeper (if for no other reason than to prove us wrong!–and we’d be very happy to be wrong).
In addition to whatever level of real connection and mutual affirmation of each other and of the universe that takes place at the table, we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives would encourage you to consider actually consciously shaping the day in such a way that the focus of attention a major part of the day is on giving thanks.
It might start with a group of friends or family taking a walk to visit some part of nature that they really love. And expressing thanks for it. Or, you might consider structuring some time (an hour before or after dinner, perhaps?) in which each person gets to be by her or himself for ten minutes and encouraged to focus on getting in touch with the things that s/he really appreciates in her/his life, and to find some way to offer thanks (a song, a prayer, words said in silence or aloud, a hymn or tune you want to offer the Universe or God–some way in which you let out of your mouth your thanks for all the goodness in the world and in your own world). If that’s not likely to occur where you go for Thanksgiving meal, create this space for yourself earlier in the day.
It might continue with each family member, guest, or friend being asked to bring something (a book, a poem, a video, a movie, a song, a musical instrument to play some music, a cd or dvd) that they believe will give you an experience for which you are grateful or to facilitate your encounter with or memory of things about which you are already grateful. Dedicate some time in the afternoon to each person sharing that with each other–and that can add another dimension of thanks.
Then, you might consider asking each person to share something that they particularly appreciate in another person who is there at the gathering. Or to tell about some other person who has been a special teacher, friend, or care-giver to you during the past year. Even if you are only a guest at someone else’s celebration, you can initiate or at least suggest this practice to the people you meet there! To prepare, you might even make a list of the things you are truly grateful for in your life before you go to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving.
Fully giving thanks makes it easier to see the special dignity and goodness that is in everything and everyone–and that will make it easier for you to less reactive when someone says something specific at your Thanksgiving table that seems out of whack with your own moral sensibilities about the political or cultural worlds. And it’s in that state of compassion and recognition of the Spirit of God in everyone that you can feel comfortable to talk to the others around the table about the fate of the millions of refugees, and of the fate of the one billion people who are hungry this and every day, and about the Network of Spritual Progressives’ proposed Global Marshall Plan and urging them to help you get your local elected city council to endorse it, and your state legislators and Congressional reps and Senators to back it (first step: to download the full 32 page color brochure and read it at www.tikkun.org/gmp)! And in the meantime, you can talk about how to take small steps of alleviating hunger, for example by reading and then following the suggestions in Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save (which you can access at www.thelifeyoucansave.com).
You might want choose some articles from tikkun.org to send to your attendees in advance of your Thanksgiving meal to help inform the discussion (or just send this note to them). You’d be amazed at how much easier it is to introduce unconventional or alternative perspectives if the people at the table have received an article on the topic before Thanksgiving (or any other occasion on which you have the opportunity to share a meal with others who might themselves raise controversial topics or find your own views controversial)—because when they see that you have others on your side who have rational arguments, they tend to be less dismissive of your perspective! Or even bring the latest issue of Tikkun or at least a copy of our ESRA—Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—as a way of showing them that there is a real concrete path to restoring democracy and controlling the global selfishness of corporations (or even get them to sign it!). You can print it fromwww.spiritualprogressives.org/
Don’t let the cynics and “realists” who believe that ISIS or Netanyahu or Trump or even Obama define “the real world.” Let them know about the Network of Spiritual Progressives, remind them of how many changes have taken place in their world in the past fifty years as a result of people who were originally dismissed as “unrealistic”–from the changes that have happened in the status of women, the end of segregation and apartheid, to the freedom of gays and lesbians to marry legally, and now even to accepting “trans” people without all the shame that used to accompany gender ambiguity. The realists are almost always unrealistic about what is possible!
Obviously there are hundreds of other ways to joyfully experience this day, and you can shape the day in the way that works best for you. Based on my experience, my advice is to plan it out before hand to make sure that it is the most nurturing possible day for yourself and for those with whom you will come into contact. Thanksgiving may give you a wonderful opportunity to give back to the world in any of these ways.
And giving thanks is healing to one’s own soul, and increases the total love, generosity, and God-energy in the world. The rabbis of the Talmud, in addressing the need everyone has to “give back,” said that even the poorest of the poor should give something to charity for others in need–recognizing that the act of giving is itself a life-enhancing act that should be available to even those who have almost nothing materially, because they still have other human capacities that enable them to give in some way of themselves to others, just as we should give to them! And I remember how empowering it felt to me and all my fellow grammar school students at Far Brook Country Day School when we brought a vegetable or fruit a day before Thanksgiving to the annual Thanksgiving celebration and these offerings were then brought to a nearby orphanage. Giving to others is a gift to the soul and so is giving thanks!
Talking about giving, as we approach our 30th anniversary year in 2016, I feel particularly grateful to those who make tax-deductible contributions to Tikkun this year, joined the Network of Spiritual Progressives, or subscribed to Tikkun–making it possible for me and our tiny staff to continue to do the work we do and to put out a magazine that again in 2015 (as in 2014) won the Best Magazine of the Year Award from the mainstream media Religion Newswriters Association. I love this opportunity to connect tens of thousands of people like you to some of the most creative, ethically sensitive, spiritually alive, psychologically and intellectually sophisticated thinkers and authors and/or fighters for social, economic and environmental justice alive in our world today, and for the memory of some of our authors and allies who passed from this earth this past year.
Many blessings for a very rewarding, love-filled, and spiritually real Thanksgiving.
Rabbi Michael Lerner