Thanksgiving dominates November. And whatever our religion, we all celebrate the holiday. In fact, more than any other national holiday, Thanksgiving has profound spiritual roots.
But almost as popular in our culture today is the day after Thanksgiving: the so-called “Black Friday.” The largest, craziest shopping day of the year. You can’t miss the stories on television every year of the mad shoppers, frantically trying to save a few bucks.
To me, it’s an extraordinary that these two “holidays” come back-to-back. Speaking about “Black Friday” a few years ago now, my colleague the Rev. David Weber deliciously summed up the ironies:
“Americans stopped for awhile yesterday to give thanks for what they have, then rose this morning, early, and left the house, praying ‘But it’s not enough.’ ”
I mean, it is ironic, isn’t it? We spend an entire holiday giving thanks to God, our families and friends. We gather to eat a bounty of food. We rest in the knowledge that we are richly blessed. And then, the very next day, we rush out to buy, spend and acquire more.
A few years ago, a department store did a radial thing during the holiday shopping season. Instead of a traditional display window with fake snow, or tinsel, or reindeer, it put up a sign that said, “I have everything I need.”
What would it take for us to believe that we have all we need? What would it take for us to stop saying, “It’s not enough”?
The answers to these questions point to why Thanksgiving is so profoundly a spiritual holiday — because the answers to these questions are always spiritual. To truly step back and give thanks for our many blessings takes spiritual insight and wisdom. It takes remembering that all of us are blessed beyond measure, whether or not we always remember or understand that.
How do we start? First, by remembering the incredible blessings that come to each of us, simply by being alive and in this time and place. Let’s say it this way: If you are reading this magazine, you are statistically among the wealthiest people in the entire world. Yes, I know, we don’t feel that way all the time. But if you’ve done any traveling in the broader world, it becomes clear how richly blessed each of us in this nation truly are.
And yet, time and time again, so many of us fail to realize this. Instead, we focus on what we don’t have. We focus on what others do have. We look across the fence and decide the grass is greener over there. Eventually, gazing at that grass turns us green with envy. And pretty soon, instead of focusing on our many blessings, we’re focusing only on what we don’t have instead.
All of the world’s major religions include worship. And all worship includes thanking God for our blessings. Studies have shown that making the intentional choice to focus on our blessings can increase our physical well being.
In my tradition, the great mystic Meister Eckhart once said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.”
So, beyond turkey and football, let Thanksgiving be a time of spiritual renewal. Give thanks for the smiles of friends, the beauty of a sunset, the embrace of a child. Give thanks that there is life moving in and out of your body today.
We are, all of us, richly blessed. And once a year, if we pay attention, we’re given the chance to pause, take stock of those blessings, and develop a deep-level sense of gratitude once again.