Transforming Thanksgiving

posted in: Dharma Topics | 0

Online on Thursday Afternoon
Thanksgiving Day, November 26, at 1:00 pm
Online on Friday Evening,
November 27, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

I developed a deep appreciation for Thanksgiving in my early twenties, after I graduated from college and moved several thousand miles from where my parents lived. I liked that it was an ecumenical national family holiday. I liked that in my circles there was a real effort to be inclusive – friends of friends, people with no where to go, and foreign students were all invited. And I liked that it nourished our better angels. We often talked about what we were grateful for.

I vaguely knew about the events the holiday celebrated. In my Los Angeles grammar schools, I participated in assemblies where students portraying “pilgrims” and “Indians” embraced each other before enacting the “First Thanksgiving.” The origin of the holiday was far from my consciousness and seemed to be remotely related to the holiday I enjoyed.

This year, as my wife and I were talking about Thanksgiving events for ourselves and for Still Water, she mentioned that there were now a lot of questions being raised about celebrating Thanksgiving, including by our twenty-year-old granddaughter, Annelise. So I gave her a call.

Annelise told me that she believes there is a lot of value in the modern secular traditions, such as bringing families and friends together for a special meal and practicing gratitude. Her problem was with the continued erasure of Native histories and cultures perpetuated by the popular Thanksgiving narrative which fails to acknowledge the violence, enslavement, dispossession, and genocide committed against this continent’s first peoples by European explorers and colonizers. She suggested three ways we might “decolonize” Thanksgiving:

With this deeper understanding of the holiday in mind, the Thursday – Friday evening program team is offering two events this week: All are welcome to attend one or both.:

  • On Thursday, November 26th, we will come together at 1 pm Eastern Time to share our feelings about Thanksgiving and our intentions for our Thanksgiving meal. We will begin by reading Still Water’s version of the “Five Contemplations Before a Meal,” and, also, the meal blessing of Michael “Tender Heart” Markley of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe. Both are below. (This special gathering will use the same link as our regular Thursday evening Still Water gathering. If you would like to attend and do not have the link, please email Jane at
  • On Friday, November 27th, the Open-to-All group will gather at our usual 7 pm time to acknowledge the people and things for which we are grateful. We will begin by reading “To be Grateful” by Thich Nhat Hanh and “Gratitude Is The Pivot On Which Love Rest” by Brother David Steindl Rast, The texts are below. (If you have not attended on Friday evening before, complete this registration link.)

You are invited to join us.

Many blessings,


Starting a Meal: The Five Contemplations
(Still Water version)

This food is the gift of the whole universe – the earth, the sky, and much hard work.

May we eat in mindfulness so as to nourish our gratitude.

May we transform our unskillful states of mind and learn to eat with moderation.

May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.

We accept this food to realize the path of understanding, love, and joy.


Meal Blessing
by Michael “Tender Heart” Markley of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe

Let us give thanks to the creator for all that is given.

The harvest moon has shined its brilliance over our home

and now as we store the harvest of our work

the creator gives sustenance.

The Earth will now rest through the coming seasons

storing the energy needed to once again feed our people.


To Be Grateful
by Thich Nhat Hanh. From Living Buddha, Living Christ

During a conference on religion and peace, a Protestant minister came up to me toward the end of one of our meals together and said, “Are you a grateful person?” I was surprised. I was eating slowly, and I thought to myself, Yes, I am a grateful person. The minister continued, “If you are really grateful, how can you not believe in God? God has created everything we enjoy, including the food we eat. Since you do not believe in God, you are not grateful for anything.” I thought to myself, I feel extremely grateful for everything. Every time I touch food, whenever I see a flower, when I breathe fresh air, I always feel grateful. Why would he say that I am not? I had this incident in mind many years later when I proposed to friends at Plum Village that we celebrate a Buddhist Thanksgiving Day every year. On that day, we practice real gratitude—thanking our mothers, fathers, ancestors, friends, and all beings for everything. If you meet that Protestant minister, I hope you will tell him that we are not ungrateful. We feel deeply grateful for everyone and everything.


Gratitude Is The Pivot On Which Love Rests
From Gratefulness: The Heart of Prayer by Brother David Steindl Rast

We grow in love when we grow in gratefulness. And we grow in gratefulness when we grow in love. Here is the link between the two: thanksgiving pivots on our willingness to go beyond our independence and to accept the give-and-take between giver and thanks-giver. But the “yes” which acknowledges our interdependence is the very “yes” to belonging, the “yes” of love. Every time we say a simple “thank you,” and mean it, we practice that inner gesture of “yes.” And the more difficult it is to say a grateful “yes,” the more we grow by learning to say it gracefully. This sheds light on suffering and on other difficult gifts. The hardest gifts are, in a sense, the best, because they make us grow the most.

We know that our deepest joy springs from living in love. The key to that joy is the “yes” which love and gratefulness have in common. Thanksgiving is the setting in which that “yes” is most naturally practiced. This makes gratefulness a school in which one learns love. The only degrees one receives in that school are degrees of aliveness. With every “yes,” one relationship or another grows deeper and broader. And aliveness can only be measured by the intensity, depth, and variety of our relationships. If the fullness of gratitude which the word grate-ful-ness implies can ever be reached, it must be fullness of love and fullness of life.