Gratefulness and the Spirit of Thanksgiving


Manage episode 152064288 series 1047788
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Gratefulness and the Spirit of Thanksgiving

with Brother David Steindl-Rast and Rollie Stanich

It’s that time of year again—the leaves have changed, the birds have made their mass exodus toward the equator, and we’ve begun arming ourselves to the teeth with rock salt and ice scrapers. As the curtain of another year begins to draw to a close, we prepare our hearts and minds for the emotional circus of the holiday season—often on a purely unconscious level, like a mammal instinctively preparing for hibernation—and we wait for the warmth and anxiety of the holidays to come over us like an old familiar blanket.

Thanksgiving is a fascinating holiday, cutting across many different generations and many different worldviews. There is a strong tribal element to Thanksgiving, directly descending from ancient harvest festivals where we sacrifice an animal to Mother Nature in appreciation for the year’s crops, and as a way to bribe her for another bountiful year (today we know that sacrifice as dinner.) The religious undertones in Thanksgiving are fairly obvious, traditionally understood as a religious celebration to offer thanks and praise to God. And yet despite these religious origins, Thanksgiving is primarily recognized today as a secular holiday, when modern men and women of all faiths (or no faith) can find their way home and spend quality time together arguing about trivial things. Even the postmodernists can find something to love in Thanksgiving, when they aren’t too busy deconstructing the myth of Columbus, harping about the absence of tofurkey at this year’s feast, or making us feel guilty about the decimation of Native American culture.

How extraordinary that the unifying force of gratitude can bring all of us to the same dinner table! Extraordinary, but not surprising. After all, gratitude does not fall under the purview of any particular religion, philosophy, or culture, but rather infuses and informs all of these. Gratitude is core to the human condition itself. It is the substrate of all our most meaningful relationships—with our family and friends, with ourselves, and with God.

As you look at the image above, reflect on the ancient symbolism of the cornucopia, which wonderfully captures the essence of gratitude. We feel grateful for the feast spilling out from the harvest cone, and offer our thanks to the source of all sustenance and nourishment. Our gratitude is the immediate and effortless response to the radical abundance offered to us at every moment, an abundance that surrounds us even during our darkest times, whether we can see it or not. But not only do we express our gratefulness for abundance—as we offer our devout appreciation, we can also feel “great-fullness” as abundance. That is, in the act of offering gratitude we actually become the source of all abundance, feeling the infinite love pouring through our hearts like sweet syrup, an inexhaustible warmth that floods the galaxies swirling behind our eyelids.

Although Thanksgiving is a primarily American and Canadian holiday, the act of expressing gratitude belongs to no culture alone. Acknowledging that a significant portion of the Integral Life audience lives outside North America, we nonetheless wanted to share the spirit of this holiday with you all, so that together we can all sit at the same table, break bread, and offer our most sincere thanks for the many blessings of our lives.

Take a Moment: Light a Candle! From time immemorial, people have lit candles in sacred places as expressions of devotion and gratitude. Why should cyberspace be any less sacred? Help make the internet a little more holy by visiting Sit in silence for a minute or two, feeling your breath while gently reflecting on the many blessings of life. Form a prayer in the center of your heart, surrounding yourself and everyone you love with the warmth of your gratitude. Then use the website to light your own virtual candle in the dark, releasing your prayer to the rest of the world. Take a deep breath, exhale, and enjoy your day!

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