Call me corny, but I love the traditional Thanksgiving story. The part of me that forever seeks community is deeply nourished by the idealized image of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans sitting down at the table together to share a fall feast. It’s heartwarming to think of the Native Americans sharing their bounty with these strange white men who showed up on their shores unannounced and uninvited. And while history teaches us about the devastatingly difficult times ahead, the story itself allows us to reflect on the true meaning of hospitality, the importance of sharing, and the courage needed to reach out to strangers and welcome them. The Native Americans were not obliged to honor Robert Frost’s definition of home for these wayward travelers: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Nothing was owed to the Pilgrims, yet so much was given. For me, Thanksgiving is a powerful reminder of our need to build bridges rather than erect fences; at the end of the day, regardless of color, nationality, or creed, we all belong to the same human family.
I have been blessed with many opportunities to learn about the importance of gratitude in my life, but perhaps no experience was more life-changing than the two years I spent living in Amman, Jordan in the early 1990s. Every night I would be awakened by the Call to Prayer, and was overwhelmed by the thought of Muslims all over the world getting out of their beds, spreading out their mats, and kneeling down to pray. What an amazing and fitting act – the gratitude they feel for their lives is so great that they literally wake up to take notice, and to give thanks. And not just on one day of the year, but every day, five times a day, and even in the middle of the night. It reminds me of the need to pinch myself when something happens that is “too good to be true.” While living there I made it my practice to lie in my bed while the prayer was chanted over the loudspeaker in the town mosque, and to make a list of my many blessings. No matter the events of the day, or the worries that accompanied me to my pillow, the Call to Prayer was so profound that everything was immediately put into perspective.
In our Community Time assembly this week, we considered the difference between happiness and joy. One of the key differences, we learned, is that happiness comes from external forces –it is usually caused by luck, good fortune, or getting what one wants. Joy, on the other hand, comes from within and can be experienced even in the midst of trying times and situations. Thanksgiving connects us to our inner joy by inviting us to make time for gratitude, and this joy in turns drives our desire to be sure that others have what they need. Like the Native Americans, we are aware of our abundance and experience joy in sharing it with others.
As I participate in the preparation of the annual feast, I am keenly aware of the gratitude I feel for my All Saints family. This community challenges me to be my best self, inspires me to be creative and courageous, and provides me with a sense of authentic connection with the basic goodness in each and every one of us. In any given week, I have to me pinch myself with tremendous frequency! Thank you for sharing the greatest joy of all with me – your children. They, and you, will be in my heart this Thanksgiving day, as I enjoy the day at home with family – those people who, when I need a place to go, will always have to take me in.
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