Giving Thanks, a message from the director
The celebration of thanksgiving gives us a day to focus on what we often take for granted and can renew our everyday expressions of appreciation and interconnection. Thanksgiving Day is a time of gathering with loved ones, sharing good food and giving thanks for our blessings. Harvest celebrations are part of many cultures and religious traditions, as we give thanks for the fruitfulness of the past year, and prepare for the season of winter, where the earth rests from the fullness of growth, inviting us to a time of reflection as well. This year COVID has given us more difficult and stressful moments, and more isolation from our family and friends, so taking time to express gratitude and focus on our blessings is even more important.
I am grateful for the colorful autumn beauty we’ve experienced in Dayton. As I’ve collected the native plant seeds and begun to cook up the squash and pumpkin harvests of the season, I’ve pondered how the plants’ resources once in summer’s lush greenery and beautiful flowers are now, at the end of the growing season, largely allocated into the fruits and seeds and storage roots of the foods we eat. What an example of letting go of their spring and summer forms the plants give us; one that inspires us in this pandemic time and invites our personal sacrifices and pondering on the simple joys of life. Nature can help us trust there will be a new season, another cycle of growth that will be different in the future.
Gratitude is a regular practice in spiritual traditions. The morning prayer of Christian traditions is focused on the Psalms of praise which open us to the gifts of the day. The evening prayer offers a time to express thankfulness as we reflect on the encounters in our day. Focusing on the blessings and goodness (and off of our worries and complaints), is known to change our perspectives. Psychological research has shown that expressing gratitude and appreciation can change our brain chemistry and help us by increasing our wellness and lessening stress. Practices that can help our gratitude deepen during our holiday celebrations are expressing thanksgiving at our meals, reflecting on the interconnections of our food items, and acts of charity and solidarity.
Taking time to pause, reflect and express gratitude at the beginning of each meal heightens our awareness of the gifts our earth gives us in our food. In the ecological encyclical, Laudato si, Pope Francis writes about the importance of attentive hearts that are present to each moment, each encounter with people and nature:
"One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labors provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need." Laudato Si', 227
One can use a standard meal prayer or share a moment of silence and then invite everyone at the table to express something they are thankful for. This simple prayer of John Robbins captures our hope during this pandemic: “May all be fed. May all be healed. May all be loved “ For longer prayers, Pope Francis’ gives us two examples that beautifully combine themes of gratitude, interconnection and solidarity Laudato Si', #246.
A second suggestion is stopping to reflect on all the interconnections that it takes to bring one food item to us. Think of all the plants and animals and people involved in all the ingredients of a particular dish or food item including planting, caring for, harvesting, transporting, delivering, stocking, purchasing, preparing and serving. Be thankful for their role in helping to feed us.
Finally, In this giving season, we can grow in greater solidarity with those in need locally and globally through our charitable giving and volunteer time. Supporting local businesses, buying from local farmers (such as community-supported agriculture like the fresh vegetables of Mission of Mary in urban Dayton https://missionofmary.org, and choosing fair-trade products, or buying a gift in someone’s name that helps meet the health, food and shelter needs of others globally https://gifts.crs.com or https://heifer.org/catalog.
Inspired by nature’s gifts in this season, we can practice little ways of love that Pope Francis highlights in the example of the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux “not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” (Laudato si #230). May gratitude for the little things pervade our season and inspire our giving thanks! Together, each of our little actions interconnect us with each other. May this year’s celebration of thanksgiving, renew our daily practices, as together we’re part of caring for our planet and transforming our world to be more loving, peaceful and just.
With grateful prayers,
Sr. Leanne Jablonski, FMI