There is a built-in sense of indebtedness in the consciousness of man, an awareness of owing gratitude, or being called upon at certain moments to reciprocate, to answer, to live in a way which is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living. – Abraham Joshua Heschel
One of the reasons I love holidays is because they schedule reflection into my calendar. During the month of Elul, I reflect on my year and do my spiritual accounting. On the Days of Awe, I work on forgiveness. During the eight nights of Chanukah, I make dedications and look for light.
Thanksgiving may not be on the Jewish calendar, but it’s on mine.
Yes, of course, everyday should be a thanksgiving. We should all be writing in our gratitude journals, but we forget or our pens run out of ink or we’re too lazy or we don’t even know what a gratitude journal is or whatever. But then, we get to see windows decorated with turkeys and insane sales on weird electronics and marked up cranberries, and we remember: Thanksgiving! The time to be thankful. That day we spend with family and friends and loved ones. We get to be reminded of our traditions, relationships, dysfunctions, the messiness and the sweetness. It’s all there, and that’s something to be thankful for. We’re here, and that’s a reason to give thanks.
In Judaism, everyday is set up to be a thanksgiving, because the first words out of our mouths are a prayer: Modah Ani (or the masculine Modeh Ani), Thankful am I. The full sentence: Modah ani lefanecha melech chai vekayam, she-he-chezarta bi nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha, translates to “I am thankful before You, living and sustaining ruler, who returned my soul to me with mercy, Your faithfulness is great.” Waking up with gratitude and starting each day with thankfulness is a beautiful practice. I love that last part of the prayer, too, “Your faithfulness is great.” To me, that means it’s not just about us and our faith. I like the idea that each morning I express my gratitude for being alive and acknowledge that the world wants me to be here.
So, a question: what if you don’t wake up with gratitude? What if you don’t wake up in a fairy tale with the sun shining and birds singing? How do you say this prayer if you’re not waking and bursting at the seams with thankfulness? I’ve been taught that you do it anyway. You say the words, maybe not with a heart of gratitude, but with an intention of gratitude.
The practice of gratitude: say thank you.
This Thanksgiving (or right now, as you’re reading this) consider adding the practice of gratitude to your day. One exercise to try is to wrap your breath around the words of prayer:
On your inhale, think/say/imagine “modeh” or “modah,” and on an exhale, “ani.” Breathing modah ani, the first words out of our mouths, gratitude. Try this for a few breaths. Breathing in and out gratitude. Feeling thankful and thanking with each breath.
A Simple Thanksgiving Practice for around the table:
1. Ask everyone to settle into their seats. Remind yourself, this is what it feels like to sit together. Pay attention to your body, feel your bottom on the chair, feel the boundaries of your skin and your clothes, feel your inhale and an exhale.
2. Invite everyone to close their eyes for a moment and see if they can locate some gratitude. What are you thankful for?
3. Go around the table and ask each person to share something for which they are grateful. Listen to the thanks giving.
4. Take a moment to let all of that gratitude sink in around the table. Take at least one breath together, as a family, whether related or not. Remind yourselves, this is what it feels like to sit together in and on Thanksgiving.
5. May the blessings of Thanksgiving and the swell of gratitude carry us throughout the year. May each day be a thanksgiving, and may each of us give thanks near and far. May any blessings of thanksgiving shared at this table not just stay with us and on this day, but may they radiate out in to the world, through our thoughts and our words and our actions. May our thanksgiving be a blessing to the world.