Saying Thanks with a Heavy Heart

November 22, 2017 | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The table is set. Flowers arranged and candles burning. The house fragrant with food cooking since morning. Guests arriving with dishes that jostle for space, first in the oven, then on the table.

Gathering for the meal, we’ll say grace. But what will we say?

Every year, the question rises – what to say thanks for on this day, in this year, with these dear ones? What will we name, given the gifts and the losses carried in our hearts as we gather around this table, now?

It’s easy to start with the food – the bounty that fills every spot on the table, and then some. These favorite words from Thich Nhat Hanh might well be enough: “This food is a gift from the earth, the sky, the universe, numerous living beings and much hard work. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.”

We could stop right there. (And those who fret over the turkey getting cold might be very happy if we did!)

But what about the heaviness that might outweigh this true and simple gratitude on the balance scale in our hearts? What about those who come to the table for the first time without a loved one departed since last Thanksgiving? Or those who come with the weight of other losses of body, mind or spirit? Or those who bring the weight of history telling us this holiday feast is neither as innocent nor as laudable in its origins as some of us have believed? What do we do with losses like these when we say grace?

What I know about gratitude is that it’s not easily contained. It works something like yeast. It’s meant to grow. Just a little gratitude for the smallest blessing – a bite of good food, a gesture of kindness – given the right conditions, can spread to places in my heart where I never expected to feel it. Right there, in the midst of my sorrow and despair, my fear and my anger, I have felt gratitude moving gently among these big muscular emotions all jostling for my attention. It slips right in beside them, not competing with them but quietly offering to carry their load for a while. Like yeast, gratitude not only expands; it lifts and leavens our hearts as it does, opening us to both the beauty and the brokenness of our lives. It always makes room for more. Gratitude does not deny either our pain or our painful history; rather it helps shoulder the weight of grief and truth, so we can imagine and begin to live our way, with honesty and hope, into a better future.

This year, in these times of so many losses and the difficult emotions aroused by them, I need this leavening. I long to let gratitude – and grace – grow in my heart and my life, as they are meant to do. At this year’s Thanksgiving table, I will reach for the hands of those on either side of me; and we will say these simple, growing lines that I learned at church:

We give thanks for being.
We give thanks for being here.
We give thanks for being here together.

And in the warmth of our gathering, we will let gratitude rise so it can keep growing long after the meal is over, even in the deep winter nights still to come.

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