This reflection was shared at The First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Service on November 25, 2015
A grandmother was watching her grandson play on the beach one day when a huge wave swept the young boy out to sea. She wasn’t able to swim and so desperately, she prayed, “Please God, save my only grandson. I beg of you, bring him back.” Right after she prayed, another big wave came and washed the boy back onto the beach, good as new. She then looked up to heaven and said, “Um, he had a hat!”
I appreciate this story not only because I can relate to it but also because it captures the human tendency to focus on what is lacking rather than on the miraculous gifts that are right in front of us. According to the Sufi Mystics, “Abundance can be had simply by consciously receiving what has already been given.” The Jewish and Christian traditions offer tried-and-true spiritual practices that help us to enter into this abundance. The Christian tradition offers the Eucharist (Greek for “Thanksgiving”), which invites us to enjoy God’s abundance by prayerfully and mindfully eating a simple piece of bread and drinking a sip of wine. The Eucharist also invites us to be in our bodies by reminding us as how much God affirmed our fleshly bodies when he incarnated in one himself. The Jewish tradition offers the prayer practice of Birkat Hamazon, which means the Blessing after meals. In Yiddish, this post-meal prayer is called “benching,” not belching, but benching from the Yiddish “bentschn” (to bless). In these Prayers after Meals, the Jewish people thank God for the food, for the land from which the food came and for God’s goodness, the source of both.
For three years now, I have been directing a collaborative youth group among several Episcopal parishes in Marin known as the Marin Episcopal Youth Group, or “Daniel and the Episcopal Kids” as Paul Gaffney calls us. Every second Tuesday of the month, we have been bringing salad and cookies to the (Marin Interfaith) Street Chaplaincy Wellness Gatherings to contribute to the feast. Paul’s interfaith meditations before the meal help us to center our hearts and minds so that we can enjoy the meal Eucharistically, with deep gratitude; so that we can consciously receive the gifts that have been given and enter into abundance together. Although I always leave these meals thankful and refreshed, I especially appreciate the times when we intentionally gather in a circle after our meals for a communal Birkat HaMazon. Appropriately, we often do this when we visit and enjoy abundance with the Jewish youth at Congregation Rodef Sholom, where a rabbi will occasionally lead us in the post-meal Blessing: “Y’hi shem Adonai m’vorach mei-atah v’ad olam. Birshut hachevrah, n’vareich Eloheinu she-achalnu mishelo. Praised be the name of God, now and forever. Praised be our God, of whose abundance we have eaten.”
By teaming up with the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy, the Marin Episcopal Youth Group have actually been learning how to be thankful before, during and after our meals; how to enter into abundance by consciously receiving what has been given. This Thanksgiving, I invite us all to enter into this abundance: to enjoy each bite of bread and each sip of wine mindfully and Eucharistically; and to give thanks not only before the meal, but also after the meal, thanking God for the food, the land and the divine source of both. I invite us to use this evening and tomorrow as a time to practice the discipline of gratitude so that we may enter more fully and more frequently into the abundance that is all around us, that is right in front us, even now, by consciously receiving all that has been given, including the ever present gift of this very moment.