Many years ago, I discovered that Orthodox Jews have a prayer for every activity and event in the day, a short prayer of gratitude that acknowledges the wonder and grace of the unfolding moment: a prayer for awakening, for rising from bed, for washing hands, drinking water, preparing food, eating food, dressing. Literally everything. This felt like a habit well worth cultivating.
At the time, I wrote prayers (and other worship materials) for a living. How hard could it be to say a short spontaneous prayer at each moment of my day? I think I had made it from my bedroom to the coffee pot before I realized that I had missed giving thanks for the indoor plumbing and the thermostat I reset on my way down the stairs. So while I was composing those prayers, I missed the ones for pouring my coffee and finding the newspaper, delivered to the side porch by someone who had wakened at least two hours before me. The answer to my question, “How hard can it be?” was, “A lot harder than it sounds.” So pausing long enough to offer thanks for the miracles in which I live and move and have my being, miracles so numerous that I can’t notice them quickly enough, is beyond challenging.
On the other hand, I can leap faster than you can say “catastrophize” from a momentary disappointment or discouragement into a scenario so dire and perilous it would leave the Brothers Grimm nonplussed, catapulting (in the blink of an eye) from this moment to worrying about my (as yet unconceived) grandchildren’s college applications and cholesterol levels. We all have different skills, what can I say?
Tomorrow is the American Thanksgiving. Our Canadian neighbors, living further north, celebrated their harvests a month ago and promptly became an experiment in cryogenics as the polar air mass passed over them on its way to dropping the temperature 40 degrees in one hour in Denver and dumping seven feet of snow on Buffalo. [As an aside, one wonders what the people of Buffalo have been doing to earn the wrath of the universe. Buffalo is not exactly a hotbed of international terrorism, for instance.]
My epiphany as I woke up this morning was that if I could stay in this moment just long enough to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the new day, and then stay in the following moment just long enough to notice that the house was not buried in seven feet of snow and that the furnace was working, and then stay in the following moment long enough to offer a little prayer of appreciation to the folks at Emma Bridgewater who made my coffee mug, I would spend most of my day in today as opposed to March 2019 or August 2030. And wouldn’t that be novel?
As we prepare to gather with families (either genetic or chosen) and eat more calories in one meal than we consume in the rest of the month put together, I know that a holiday tradition around many tables is to gather up the things for which we have been grateful over the past year and share them as part of the conversation. Expressing gratitude whenever and however we do it is never amiss, but I wonder what would happen if we asked the question, “What are you thankful for right now?” Right now. What are you thankful for right now, as you are reading this? As I write, I am intensely grateful for fingers that still move freely and swiftly over the keyboard, for a computer and for being able to afford a computer and for living in a part of the world where I can plug my computer into any wall in my house, and for the questions bubbling in my mind, and for the warmth in the room, and…
I have observed before that most of us have trouble staying in the moment, in now (why do you suppose Eckhart Tolle is a multi-millionaire?) So, I am always looking for something to help me in that practice. It seems to me that Judaism may have given us the clue. Gratitude helps keep us now, paying attention to this very second, this breath, this water flowing over my hands or filling a glass, this sky with its sun or clouds or starlight or lines of migrating geese.
I often sit at a stop light and wonder what the person who just cut me off is going to do with the extra 3 seconds in his day. Maybe I could use that time to wonder – instead – what life I am skipping right past when I catastrophize into the future. What color and texture and joy and idea and miracle am I rushing through without noticing as I anticipate the potential disaster right around the next corner? Maybe I could practice a moment of gratitude and return to this precious instant that will never come again.
What if Thanksgiving wasn’t a day, but a way of life?
I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude intentionally from now to the Solstice…that should be long enough to make it a semi-hard-wired habit, at least. I propose that we pause five times a day, take a deep breath, and notice at least one of the on-going miracles that surround us. My five will be waking up, my first mealtime, my first break from whatever work I am doing, dinner time, and bed time. At least five times every day, I will be attentive to now (and, therefore, unable to catastrophize.) And if I miss one of the five, I will try to be grateful for the other four instead of judging the experiment a failure and giving up. If you think you can actually write down your five moments of gratitude, do that. Physical action helps fortify habits.
My prayer for us is this:
Miracle of Miracles,
may we tune our ears to hear the
amazing whispers right now:
a word of love, a word of comfort,
a work of forgiveness, a word of humor.
May we open soft eyes
on this very moment
sizzling with the energy of life
unfolding into pied-brilliant blossom
and dripping with honeyed fruit.
May we inhale spirit breath
and lean soul-deep into light and darkness
now, right now.
Until we know nothing but wonder and awe
Let it be so.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2013 Immram Chara, LLC