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Practicing ThankfulnessInterfaith Thanksgiving Service November 20, 2016

11/21/2016 10:53:56 AM

Nov21

יוֹדוּךָ יְהֹוָה כָּל־מַעֲשֶׂיךָ וַחֲסִידֶיךָ יְבָרֲכוּכָה:
145:10 All your creations, YHVH will thank you, and your loved ones will bless you.
 
Some days I wake up more thankful than others.
 
I trust this is true for most of us.
 
Some days I not only feel ungrateful for what I have
but resentful of it.
 
I don’t want to get up and face the challenges of my family
or my job
or the daily news.
I want something simpler.
 
In the Jewish tradition
there is a prayer we are supposed to say
at the moment of waking.
Even before we have opened our eyes
or gotten out of bed.
 
Modeh ani lefanecha melech chai vekayam shehechezarta bi nishmati bechemla rabah emunahtecha.
I am thankful before You
Power of life and existence
Because you have returned my soul
in loving care
Great is your faith in me.
 
Saying ths prayer not only expresses my gratitude t
hat I am alive,
Waking to a new day
it also asserts that God has helped me to remember I have a soul.
No matter how I feel
I remember that there is a part of me
that is connected to the eternal.
Finally, it ends with a declaration of God’s faith in me.
 
 
Modeh Ani  - is a great prayer to start the day with.
 
I often forget!
 
But when I remember to say it
in that not quite fully awake moment.
 
I am thankful,
I am alive,
 I feel my connection to all
and I know I must have a purpose.
 
It usually helps me to put my good fortune,
or temporary feelings of misfortune, in perspective.
 
This is the most basic Jewish practice of gratitude.
But next week is Thanksgiving
so I am going to teach you a very advanced gratitude practice.
 
It might be too hard.
If so just go back to the first prayer practice I described.
 
Ps. 145:10
י יוֹדוּךָ יְהֹוָה כָּל־מַעֲשֶׂיךָ:
Is usually translated
All your creations God, will thank you
The psalmist imagines everything on earth thanking God.
 
BUT
It is possible to thoughtfully misread this line.
“They will thank you God
for all of your creations…”
 
This reading suggests that we must be thankful for EVERYTHING, for every aspect of creation.
Every aspect of creation.
The good and the bad.
 
There are in fact teachings and prayers
that ask us to be thankful not only for what is right in the world but also for what is wrong.
 
The pleasant and the unpleasant,
good and bad,
blessing and curse – all of existence. (kol)
Such teachings are rooted in the idea that everything is connected,
that everything has a spark of the divine and that everything, every person,
every experience can teach us something
and should be greeted with gratitude.
 
Offering thanks for everything and everyone
might seem especially hard to some of us right now.
Maybe after this election there is something that made you angry.
 
Or maybe when you think about who will be gathered around your thanksgiving table,
it might seem  
especially hard to imagine being thankful for certain guests.
 
Like I said before this is advanced practice.
 
The advanced nature of this practice
is especially true for anyone who has experienced real suffering,
and all of us at some point experience suffering.
 
If this practice of offering thanks
even or difficult things and difficult people
were sold in stores it would come with a warning
 
WARNING:
Practice only under spiritual supervision.
Or
WARNING:
Thanking God for everything
does not mean
God made all the horrible things we experience for a reason.
Or God causes suffering.
 
AND FINALLY WARNING:
NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TELL SOMEONE WHO IS SUFFERING PERHAPS THEY SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR THE OPPORTUNITY
 
It takes real chutzpa to say that we know anything at all about God
and I believe it is potentially blasphemous
to say that God is making people suffer.
 
For this “advanced practice”
that I’m inviting us to try this Thanksgiving
 
It is enough to say:
I have faith that the world is good.
I am alive and I am thankful to be alive.
 
I am awake enough to notice my suffering.
 
Just as I am thankful for the good of life,
I will try to see what happens
when I offer thanks for the challenges of life.
 
I have tried offering thanks for things in my life
that I are unpleasant.
And I have noticed how it helps me reorient.
 
I will share one very personal example.
 
I have children with ADHD and other special needs.
 
To be clear I love my children
and feel grateful to have them in my life.
 
But having a child with special needs can be very hard.
It is harder than most people who have not experienced it might realize.
There are moments that my primary feeling is not gratitude but anger or resentment or frustration.
Moments when if I were 100% honest I would tell you –
I wouldn’t choose this challenge.
And you know what I didn’t choose this challenge.
But it is my challenge
And when I can remember to express gratitude for it…
 
Everything opens up.
The resentment softens.
I notice the compassion and patience and understanding that has been born from this experience.
I remember how grateful I am to have these boys in my life.
 
 
We can do the same thing with family members who are challenging. Or with politicians we disagree with. Or sometimes with more intense misfortune and suffering that can be a part of life.
 
Trying to greet the truth of our existence with gratitude is not the same as wanting or accepting every hardship or annoyance.
 
Rather it is a reorientation that allows us to notice:
 
What opportunities might exist in the moment?
How might this challenge reveal my purpose?
Where is the holiness in this person I find difficult?
What have I learned even from my failings and tragedies?
Is there any meaning in this pain?
 
I think that there is something in the willingness
to at least ask the question –
how can I be grateful for Everything Existence has brought me –
 
that for me leads to loving others and blessing God.
 
But like I said – offering thanks for everything, even hard things, is advanced practice.
 
Never hesitate to return simply
to just offering thanks
for everything that is easy and good and wonderful
about being alive.
 
Modeh ani lefanecha melech chai vekayam shehechezarta bi nishmati bechemla rabah emunahtecha.
 
I am thankful before You - God
Power of life and existence
Because you have give me a soul
in loving care
Thank you for
Your great faith in me.
Tue, September 26 2017 6 Tishrei 5778