Gratitude is our invitation at Thanksgiving, a feast to celebrate the work and gifts of harvest. In my corner of the world, it was the second consecutive year of drought for many farming families. My garden was well watered by the sprinklers, but I crowded the space. The pumpkins and tomatoes took over so the potatoes, carrots and beets were pretty sparse. Season to season, the abundance of harvest is not always the same. Thanksgiving comes anyway.
I have written before about gratitude as a path that opens us to receive grace. This year, when our world is fractured by politics and polarization, I am reflecting on the ways that gratitude shifts perspective. When things are going the way I want them to, gratitude can easily fall away into entitlement. I forget that everything is a gift and feel as though I have earned or am owed the goodness in front of me. When things seems to be falling apart or destroyed, I become resentful and closed off to the possibility that anything is a gift.
Practicing gratitude shifts my perspective. The world does not shift to a perfect place because I am grateful, but the practice allows me to see what is real. That everywhere and always there is both dying and rising happening simultaneously. That joy and suffering co-exist. That people are miraculous and imperfect at the same time.
I finish a two-year project. The initial plan was for a year, and interruptions and revisions lead to an end fairly different than envisioned in the beginning. Gratitude invites me to see the gifts hoped for and the ones actually realized. I can give thanks for the people who came along in the second year who would not have contributed in the first. While we are delayed, I can be grateful the project is still moving ahead, that supplies will eventually arrive, that there is meaningful work to do while we wait, and that there are spaces for rest. Gratitude allows me to see what is good as well as what is possible in what is, even while I acknowledge the patience, frustrations, and flexibility required.
After years of isolation and unknowing, the world has re-opened and our family is pulled in all directions. The kids are four years older (as are we!) and those years did not give them the chance to gradually practice the skills of getting ready for and going to activities. There is a steep learning curve as we continue to adjust our expectations and grow in this season. I am grateful for sniffles that do not cause alarm and the opportunity to pack up music books and skates for lessons. Arguments over who will close the door are occasions for gratitude that we can leave the house and learn to speak kindly.
Protests and counter protests are happening in my city and province. There are very strong opinions on all sides. It is hard to get a clear picture of what is actually going on amidst the posturing and sound bites and emotions. My perspective and influence is limited. I am grateful to live in a democracy, thankful that people are using their voices, aware of the places I can soothe pain and bring comfort. I can practice gratitude for the opportunity to have honest and uncomfortable dialogue that will contribute to shaping the imperfect and ongoing conversation.
Gratitude is not a gaslighting optimism that silences or removes difficulty, pain, or loss. It is a spiritual practice that refuses to allow blindness to goodness, possibility, and hope in the middle of struggle. When I am tempted to see things from only one side, lured into the simplicity of self-righteousness or self-pity, gratitude gives me a more nuanced and accurate picture of the world I am actually living in.
The harvest is sometimes lousy. Our relationships may need work. The leaves, having turned beautiful shades of gold and red, are filling up the eavestroughs. Thanksgiving comes anyway to inform the way we live well beyond the turkey leftovers. May we find ourselves grateful that the sun has risen. May our practice of gratitude allow us to see and receive the gifts and challenges as a part of the miracle of our time in this place.