Thanksgiving. A whole day based on the idea of being grateful. Now, that can be as simple as gratitude for a beautiful sunset, or thankful that a CAT scan was clear. In other words, it’s different things for different people.
I’m grateful to live in such a beautiful place, for a job I enjoy, and for family and friends to love. I asked around, to see what others might have to say about Thanks-giving.
The Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and a seasonal Oak Bluffs resident, preaches at Union Chapel on occasion, and she has some tangible ideas about how folks can express their gratitude. “Pausing to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature all around us; remembering to say please and thank you; hugs; smiles; reaching out to help someone in need, and working for justice and peace in our world,” Ms. Townes wrote in an email.
Sounds pretty simple; wonder if I’ll remember to follow those basic guidelines after Thanksgiving Day has come and gone.
Dr. Charles Silberstein, a psychiatrist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and writes the Times’s “On My Mind” column, weighed in on how being grateful is actually good for you. “It turns out that there are emotions that are unhealthy, such as shame, depression, helplessness, and feeling overwhelmed,” he wrote in an email. “There are also healthy emotions, such as awe, joy, love, and gratitude.”
Giving thanks enhances a sense of connection to those we give thanks to, he said, whether the gratitude is given to a person, a pet, nature, or God. There are studies that suggest that grateful people feel better about themselves, are more resilient to stress, take better care of themselves, and sleep better.
Dr. Silberstein keeps a gratitude journal. “When I write in it, I feel my worries melting away. It brings me right up to the present,” he said. “There is an almost physical sensation of being lighter.”
He said it seems as if something is changing in his brain when he writes in the journal. And he finds that people he encounters in his practice express the same phenomenon.
“Listing gratitudes is a powerful antidepressant,” he said. “Gratitude can be the antidote to anger and aggression.”
Dr. Silberstein described a particular example of when he and his wife were headed to a party a couple of summers ago. They were stuck behind a slow-going car with out-of-state plates.
“You know how South Road twists and turns? There is no passing. Irritation, indignation, and impatience are some of the feelings that coursed through our brains. Then one of us suggested that we each talk about three things that we were grateful for. When we did, those anxious and aggressive feelings evaporated,” he said. “We slowed down, enjoyed the beauty of the road and the pleasure of each other’s company. The distance between cars lengthened to the point that I don’t think we even noticed the car in front of us. As I remember that day, I have a smile on my face. I think with humor about that overserious guy in the car that was me. I feel big thanks for the discovery of the doorway that we opened with our gratitudes. As I sit here, I can’t tell you where we were going or exactly what we did that night. But I do remember the glorious drive down-Island.”
Maybe it all boils down to mindfulness — awareness that with a few simple practices, we can change our attitude, our tendency to worry, stress, blame, take things too personally, not taking care that we rest and recharge … sorry, I think I was talking about myself there for a minute. Anyway, giving thanks not only helps you but also produces a ripple effect. That person you smile at, say thank-you to, give up that parking space to … maybe that gesture is just what someone else needs.
Here are some good prayers for Thanksgiving, courtesy of a couple of members of the All-Island Clergy Association.
From the Rev. Chip Seadale at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is a prayer he recently came across written by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy Goodness sends.
The Rev. Roberta Williams, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in the Campground, wrote that a prayer is communication between the pray-er and God. For those who aren’t comfortable praying aloud, she suggests distributing small pieces of paper for folks to write down something for which they are thankful. It can be read by one person leading the prayer at Thanksgiving dinner, rather than each person saying it aloud.
“You might want to remind your readers to pray for those struggling with addiction, domestic abuse, overeating, or overspending,” she wrote. “Thanksgiving through New Year’s is the peak of these behaviors.”
Trinity Church’s parish hall next to the Tabernacle will be open all day on Thanksgiving and Christmas for substance-free gatherings, open for those struggling with drug or alcohol addictions. She offers a beautiful prayer, expressing thanks and a reminder to share gratitude. “Thank you, God, for all the amazing and generous people in the world. Help us not to focus on the unfathomable losses of our life. We are thankful for those who lived a long life and did the hard work of loving us. Thank you for their ability to show us your amazing grace of forgiveness. As I take second helpings of everything, remind me of my own addictions. Help me not to be dismissive or judgmental of the struggles of other people. Remind us to pay attention to the lonely on holidays. We pause this day to give thanks for generous people who support houses of faith so that your love may be shared through words, music, and ministry. We give thanks for all houses of faith, who show by their actions your commandment to love others as they would want to be cared for. Amen.”
Rabbi Caryn Broitman from the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center noted that giving thanks is a central part of Jewish tradition.
“The name ‘Judaism’ itself comes from Jacob’s son Judah, a name which means ‘thanks’ and was given by Judah’s mother Leah because of her gratitude,” Rabbi Broitman wrote in an email. “In our liturgy, we pray three times a day, thanking God for the ‘miracles that surround us morning, noon, and night, every hour of every day.’ We bring this daily practice of gratitude to Thanksgiving. In addition to the prayers of thanks before and after each meal on any day, many of us take more time on Thanksgiving to share with each other the blessings of our lives that are so easily taken for granted. Each day is a gift.”
Chilmark Community Church offers an open-table Thanksgiving Day meal at 1 pm on Thursday, Nov. 23. The Rev. Charlotte and Don Wright will be doing the cooking. Anyone who needs a place to go that day or who may not have family nearby is welcome to come enjoy the meal. A dish to share or donations would be appreciated, but not necessary.
Sometimes it helps to enlist the guidance of others.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown hosts an Advent Hope Evensong, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 5:30 pm. They’ll welcome a new season of Advent with music from Griffin McMahon, prayers of hope, some brief readings, and a meditation. “And lots of peace and candlelight!” the Rev. Seadale adds.
The First Congregational Church of West Tisbury’s annual Christmas Faire will be on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm. This is a great opportunity to pick up handcrafted festive holiday decorations and gifts for friends and family.
You can purchase custom-decorated wreaths, holiday centerpieces, jewelry, and gift items. Homemade baked goodies for gifts or entertaining will also be available. Come early for the best selection of holiday decor and gifts. Coffee will be there for early birds. A Christmas gift-basket raffle will be offered. All proceeds support the work of the church in the Island community.
From Good Shepherd Parish, Father Mike Nagle offers an Advent mission led by Father Andy O’Reilly at St. Augustine’s Church. He’ll be speaking at all the Masses this coming weekend, and the mission will run from Monday, Nov. 27, through Wednesday, Nov. 29, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm each night. The theme of the mission is the Eucharist. “Then we are into Advent and Christmas,” Father Nagle wrote in an email update. “Christmas is on a Monday this year, so Advent is the shortest it can be — three weeks and one day.”
The seventh annual Festival of Wreaths at the Federated Church meetinghouse and parish house in Edgartown is Thursday, Nov. 30, from 5 to 7 pm. This event will get you into the Christmas spirit like no other. There are raffles (a $200 gift certificate from Net Result or an 18-inch specially decorated wreath are prizes), or bid on silent auction items like a dinner for four at the Winnetu, a handmade quilt from Haiti, or a Ray Ellis print of the Federated Church. More than 75 decorated natural wreaths will be on display and for sale. Admission is free. Stop by and congratulate the Rev. David Berube on his recent induction as the new pastor of the church.
Offerings of Music and Light will be hosted on Sundays, Dec. 3, 10, and 17, at 5 pm at the Chilmark Community Church. Island artists and musicians present free performances to brighten the darker days. Join Lia Kahler, Atzic Marquez, and other Island singers, musicians, dancers, drummers and readers in celebrating the hope, love, joy, peace and light of the holiday season. Candle lighting and refreshments included. The church is located at 9 Menemsha Crossroads, Chilmark.
Mark your calendar for the upcoming Hanukkah celebration at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center on Friday, Dec. 15, at 5:30 pm. Enjoy special musical guests Deborah Strauss, Eric Johnson, and Peter Boak conducting the Shirat Hayam Choir, along with delicious potato latkes and more. Bring your menorahs, your friends, and a vegetarian salad or fruit for dessert. Latkes and candles are provided. Everyone is welcome.