So much is evolving. Science, Medicine, Religion. Even marriage ceremonies and funerals are evolving over time. Cheryl will take a look at Thanksgiving Day and suggest a new, evolved twist on a traditional celebration.
Rev. Cheryl Jack is minister emerita of the UUCD. She lives in Beaverton with Andris and new family member, Domino the Shih Tzu. Life in small town Ontario agrees with her and she finds plenty to keep her busy including participation in the work of “Big Sisters of Durham Region”.
The complete sermon can be read below:
UUCD Thanksgiving Oct. 7, 2012
Rev. Cheryl Jack
“Only One Day to Give Thanks”
Some of you may remember the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show. I noticed that it was shown on TV a few nights ago. For Truman Burbank…it was a wonderful world…until he came to the realization that he had been exploited his entire life. He has been living totally in a constructed environment – a huge television studio with all his friends and the people he encounters played by actors.
While the show – the Truman Show - is shown 24/7 to billions of people around the world, Truman thinks that he’s an ordinary man with an ordinary life and has no idea about how he is being exploited.
Each morning, like Truman, I could well be living on a movie set in an idealized world – where no other reality exists. The Cheryl Jack Show.
Picture the scene. I live in a condo townhouse complex on Lake Simcoe - in Beaverton. My best friend Domino and I walk out the front door. Someone by the clubhouse across the way shouts, “Hey Cher are you going tonight?” “I’ll be there”, I shout back. And then from a neighbour washing his car, “Watch out. I may accidently spray you.” And then - Good morning, Beautiful day! Have a good day! Enjoy your walk! And to my four-legged friend - Hi Domino! What a cutey pie you are. Domino, this is Teddy. See you to-morrow! And now that school has started, as if on cue, the bus driver waves to me as a Mom and Dad wave good-bye to their kids as they board the bus.
As with Truman, each morning is similar. I smile. I wave. All is right with the world. Birds are plentiful…ducks, gulls, geese – the occasional loon, the way the lake looks varies from day to day, the air is pleasingly fragrant. Unlike every moment of Truman’s life my one hour morning walk has not been constructed for me and the people are not actors. It is my ordinary life. And yet – even so – it’s wonderful. During that one hour walk I am filled with gratitude.
But that’s not always the case. I realize that if I am not consciously grateful, as I am, every morning, I can easily become weighed down by life and all its unpredictability.
I’ve pondered why it is that I feel so blessed on my walk. The answer that I’ve come up with is this: there are no unwanted distractions. I am giving my full attention to my surroundings – the sounds of the birds, the wind on my face, the height of the waves, the presence of people, my dog’s idiosyncracies.
I realize that if I want to feel right with the world, if I want to enjoy my life – it’s important to pay attention. When I pay attention I feel gratitude for all that is. When gratitude is an overriding approach to life - gratitude for life in and of itself - feelings of loss, resentment, anger, despair, all natural human feelings…are subsumed.
In other words none of those negative feelings will stand in the way of my ultimate happiness and appreciation of my life if, on an absolutely fundamental level. I feel gratitude for my ‘one precious life’, that life as described by Mary Oliver in “The Summer Day”. That life in which prayer is the act of paying attention.
“I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one precious life?”
When Henry Thoreau went into retreat at Walden Pond, he and his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson (both Unitarians) had been studying Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist texts. He wrote: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." He understood that conscious life was a gift for which the highest form of gratitude was to know it in all its depths.
It’s easy enough to say - but why do we find it so difficult to live deliberately…to pay attention?
Let me tell you a story -
A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on.
A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the hat and without stopping continued to walk.
A few minutes later, a man leaned against a wall to listen but after looking at his watch he continued walking.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother hurriedly dragged him along as he tried to stop to listen to the violinist.
The mother pulled hard and the child continued to walk turning his head at the same time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we don’t have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, we are not living deliberately…we are not attentive…and thus it is doubtful that we are able to feel gratitude for our one precious life.
As a society, we can’t seem to slow down and savor every breath, every bite, and every step we take, no matter what the circumstances. We seem to be trying to continually escape the present so that we can reach the future which may not be as wonderful as right now.
I’m suggesting, this morning, that we need to feel a sense of thankfulness for the larger reality – for all that we can’t control. Maybe we expect too much and in our expectation we lose sight of the heart warming, the connections to our very soul…the sacred.
UU author, Phil Simmons exemplified respect for life. He was grateful for his own although it was short and the last few years were increasingly debilitating and painful.
Phil, had been a college professor until he was diagnosed with ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease - at the age of 35. He wrote “Learning to Fall”, the Blessings of an Imperfect Life
He received a fair amount of attention for his book, and he frequently gave talks and interviews. He told the story of one radio interviewer who asked him to describe the highlights of his life since being diagnosed with ALS. “Highlights,” thought Phil. “You’ve got to be kidding.” But he answered as best he could, realizing later what he should have said: “Getting my fingernails cut this morning.”
“Here was Susan,” he said, “my friend and nurse, trimming my nails as I sat warmed by the morning sun reflecting off snow covered fields, my wife beside me writing postcards and sipping coffee. If we’re looking for what’s sacred, what’s holy—why look any further? The sacred world is before our eyes and in our nostrils and beneath our feet. What I should have told the radio interviewer is, ‘If you’re looking for highlights, you’ll miss your life.’”
We can choose to dance into wonderment every day through cultivating our sense of gratitude. We can choose reverence as our path through life - by a steady practice of thanksgiving.
In our children’s story Taylor came up with the idea of one day to grumble and 364 days to celebrate and give thanks. She probably got the idea from Sesame Street’s trash can dwelling Muppet, Oscar the Grouch whom, I believe inspired National Grouch Day. However, the intent of Grouchy Day is different from the intent to foster appreciation for grouchy people…which was probably the intent of Sesame Street. Instead, Grouchy Day is one day set aside to vocalize and let go of all the things that we complain about on a daily basis. The other 354 days will be days of celebration and thanksgiving.
To give thanks every day (except Grouchy Day) is not to say that everything in our lives is great. It just means that we are aware of the wonder of our lives and are grateful for our life.
We would all be better off. Think about it.
Gratitude means counting our blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that we receive. It means learning to live our life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much we’ve been given.
Gratitude for each day frees us from identifying with either the negative or the positive aspects of life, allowing us to simply meet life in each moment as it rises.
And hey - research shows that daily gratitude results in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. In addition, people who practice gratitude experience less depression and stress, and make greater progress toward achieving personal goals.
There is a very old Sufi story about a man whose son captured a strong, beautiful, wild horse, and all the neighbors told the man how fortunate he was. The man patiently replied, "We will see." One day the horse threw the son who broke his leg, and all the neighbors told the man how cursed he was that the son had ever found the horse. Again the man answered, "We will see." Soon after the son broke his leg, soldiers came to the village and took away all the able-bodied young men, but the son was spared. When the man's friends told him how lucky the broken leg was, the man would only say, "We will see." Gratitude for participating in the mystery of life is like this.
Speaking of Sufis, the poet Rumi speaks to this topic in his poem "The Guest House":
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
In closing - the conclusion of Rabbi Lerner’s poem -
I rejoice in the goodness of all that I am, of all that I have been able to experience, of the
goodness of my family and friends, of all the amazing and wonderful people I have been
blessed to meet or to encounter through their writing, art, and music. I’ve been blessed
in all the bounty, wisdom, pleasure and joy, and even from the painful lessons and
disappointments, that I have inherited from the universe and from my family and from
all that I have come to experience and know.
Amen and Blessed Be
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