Prayers of Gratitude

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, November 20, 2020 / 4 Kislev 5781

Summary: As we approach Thanksgiving, I wanted to reflect on the power of gratitude and offer you some questions to consider that may help you foster your own attitude of gratitude.

Guest Speaker David Biespiel: Sermon slot. Then at approximately 11 am, please join him for an interactive discussion on Zoom:

Passcode: Shabbat


Prayers of Gratitude

Friends, I don’t know about you, but the recent news from Pfizer and Moderna did me a world of good. Yes, it will still be quite a long time before vaccine production can be scaled up sufficiently so that we can return to a semblance of the life we all knew before this pandemic. I liken it to the old aphorism of the light at the end of the tunnel. We still may not know how long the tunnel in front of us is, but this sliver of illumination should be greeted for what it is—a chance to exhale, to reaffirm our faith to live with hope and optimism, and to do so by our focus on gratitude.

As we approach Thanksgiving, you are probably already reflecting on gratitude. You might, in your darker moments, even be wondering what there is to be grateful for. For those of us who may find ourselves a bit more down than usual, or unable to identify the gifts we have received, this should be a reminder and an opportunity for each of us. An attitude of gratitude is a choice. It is a religious stance in which we allow ourselves the freedom to focus on what is right as opposed to what is not.

Gratitude, in other words, is both a mindset and a discipline. The more we practice it, the easier it becomes. Four years ago or so, I read an article by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory. He brought to light a very interesting study known as the Nun Study which tracked a group of nuns beginning in 1930. Each nun at that time wrote an autobiography of what led them to the cloister. Research revealed that those whose autobiographies expressed more gratitude, love, hope and thankfulness lived, on average, seven years longer than those who were less grateful.

Judaism is often viewed, even by Jews, as a religion of rules. That’s something that many Jews chafe at, as the halakhic framework can seem to impinge on our liberty. Those rules, however, have a goal and a purpose. For example, we are asked to recite 100 blessings a day of gratitude. We are meant to emphasize an appreciation for what others do for us (hakarat hatov.) There are many definitions for religion. Here’s one for this week: Judaism is a culture and framework designed to educate us to relate to ourselves and others from a place of gratitude.

Week after week, this pandemic has reasserted my gratitude for my family and the overall cheery disposition of our household. It has led me to appreciate my remarkable neighborhood and the truly lovely people I share it with. Looking out the window at our primarily dormant vegetable garden, the chard, kale, mustard greens and lettuces continue to grow, and the butternut squash, already harvested, promises to feed us long past Thanksgiving. What a blessing.

In honor of the great American holiday, observed by almost all Americans, regardless of religion, creed or background, I want to bless you with a desire to take an inventory of the many gifts you have. Our challenges as a nation and as individuals are real. Let’s not forget our lives and our nation are so much more than those. If forced to commit to a single secret to a good life, an attitude of gratitude would have to top the list.

Below is a poem I wrote shortly after finishing college. I was living in northern New Mexico in a two room cinder-block shack. Cold air snuck through the chinks in winter. I worked as a cook, but only for two or three days a week; the rest of the time was dedicated to other labors–poetry, gardening, friends and hiking. This was composed in late summer when the garden was producing. Although it’s late autumn now, it seemed a sweet poem to offer up in the week before Thanksgiving.

Wishing you days of peace,

Rav D

A Prayer of Gratitude
David Kosak © 1991

It doesn’t take much.
Some water, some dark earth,
and the will to become something more,
contained in the husk of seeds.
Give some warmth, some love,
and things will grow.
A garden, my garden.

I just had a great meal,
all come from outside my door.
Lettuces and spinach, baby carrots,
a hard-boiled egg,
and two small perfect apricots.

Will any of this make sense to city people?
Or rural folks too familiar with how things grow?
Will they think me false or exaggerating
when I say I trembled, overcome with this meal?
With the bounty of earth?

Let my tongue fly from my mouth, o lord,
singing how there is no scarcity
but that which comes from within,
how everything is a gift,
unexpected and welcome to those who love life,
how our lives themselves are parcels of beauty,
given from a mother’s pain and joy.

You are a gift my friend, and I am a gift to you.
Do not cling tightly, but laugh with me,
cry with me, make love with me.
If we could only let go all expectations,
this belief in rights which poisons our receptiveness.
How often I forget that I am alive,
how I dismiss this as a given.

My creator, forgive me my bitterness, my callowness,
my confusions which keep looking for more…
Right now, I am alive, on a beautiful mother,
spinning through utter blackness,
and I am a light, burning for however long.
What more could I want?
And yet I have so much more.
Not only could I not count my blessings,
but also, how often I forget, how often I forget.
Thank you creator, for a perfect lunch.

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. What are some things or people that you are regularly grateful for?
  2. During this tumultuous time of pandemic, what unexpected gifts have helped you sustain your optimism?
  3. What is the first Thanksgiving you can remember as a child? Which memories are burnished? Do you have particular emotions connected to those memories? A favorite dish?
  4. As with so many other “firsts,” this will be a different Thanksgiving. What will you do to fill the day with small gratitudes?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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