As I sit here typing this Thursday morning, I realize that exactly at this time forty-five years ago, I was riding in the back seat of our station wagon on a cold, rainy morning. My dad was driving, my mom was riding shotgun, and our family doctor was in back with me as we rode along I-40 from Little Rock to Memphis en route to St Jude. The week before, on Friday the 13th in November 1970, I noticed the knot that we soon learned was cancer. The next week was Thanksgiving Day, and chemotherapy and radiation treatment had already made me too sick to eat anything. It was tough… but it gave me some deep roots in the power of gratitude.
Again, next Thursday will be “Thanksgiving Day.” On this traditional time when families and friends from all around and across generations gather to celebrate (which for many includes lots of food, football and even shopping for good bargains), some become even more aware of their own loneliness and sense of scarcity.
Thanksgiving Day first became an official Federal holiday in 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”. Now in 2015, 152 years later, we have important church gatherings, family traditions and essential recipes… but it seems we may have neglected some spiritual roots that draw deeply from the well of God’s “living water” and nurture what is best in our relationships.
Wherever you are this Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to consider these “Touchstones for a Circle of Trust” I have adapted especially for Thanksgiving Gatherings.
Touchstones for Circles of Trust at Thanksgiving Gatherings
Be 100% present, extending and presuming welcome. Set aside the usual distractions. Bring all of yourself to the relationships. We all learn most effectively in spaces that welcome us. Welcome others to this place and this time, and presume that you are welcomed.
Listen deeply. Listen intently to what is said; listen to the feelings beneath the words. “To ‘listen’ another’s soul into life, into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.” — [Writer Douglas Steere] Listen to yourself also. Strive to achieve a balance between listening and reflecting, speaking and acting.
Always by invitation. To help create an atmosphere of trust, help people have authentic boundaries, so each soul can determine the extent to which they want to participate in discussions & activities.
No fixing. Each of us is here to discover our own truths, and depths of gratitude. We are not here to set someone else straight, to “fix” or “correct” what we perceive as broken or incorrect in another family member or friend.
Suspend judgment. Set aside your judgments. By creating a space between judgments and reactions, we can listen to the other, and to ourselves, more fully, & thus our perspectives, decisions and actions are more informed.
Identify assumptions. Our assumptions are usually invisible to us, yet they under-gird our worldview, our decisions & our actions. By identifying our assumptions, we can then set them aside and open our viewpoints to greater possibilities.
Speak your truth. Say what is in your heart, trusting that your voice will be heard and your contribution respected. Your truth may be different from, even the opposite of, what another in the Thanksgiving gathering has said. Speaking your truth is not debating with, or correcting, or interpreting what another has said. Own your truth by speaking only for yourself, using “I” statements.
Respect silence. Silence is a rare gift in our busy world. After you or someone else has spoken, sometimes it is OK to take time to reflect and fully listen, without immediately filling the space with words.
Respect confidentiality. Create a safe space by respecting others and resisting “gossip.”.
When things get difficult, turn to wonder. If you find yourself disagreeing with another, becoming judgmental, shutting down in defense, try turning to wonder: “I wonder what brought her to this place?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me?” “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?”
Adapted from Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer
Also, instead of focusing just on one day (or week) of gatherings, how about we all change the “D” to a “W” and become more intentional about the “Thanksgiving Way”? After all, isn’t our calling more about a “way to be present” than “what we should do on certain occasions”?
What would taking nothing for granted look like? What could you do to creatively remind yourself about the ways in which you are fortunate?
The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.
– Br. David Steindl-Rast
Grace and peace to you and yours,