Thanksgiving

I know we have two more days until Thanksgiving Day, but our student organizations organized a Thanksgiving breakfast this morning.  There was no formal program, just a prayer over the food, breaking bread and enjoying fellowship.

The students did have on each table a card with some questions for sharing.  I thought I’d share them here:

How can I be thankful for the challenges I have faced?  What good was brought from them?

When was a time I realized I was taking something for granted, and how did it change my perspective when I became grateful?

Where, to whom, and how can I say thank you more?

We had some good sharing at my table prompted by these questions.  I hope they make for good reflection for you.

Mid-Day Reflection: Gratitude

I offered a lunchtime program today at UST Law School on the subject of gratitude.  I selected that subject for our session both because we are little more than a week away from Thanksgiving Day and because is such an important spiritual practice, regardless of one’s faith tradition.

I gave a brief reflection discussing the difference it makes whether one’s stance is one of gratitude or entitlement and talking about the fact that studies have documented a variety of social, physical and psychological benefits of gratitude. I then suggested a number of practices for cultivating gratitude.  After my talk, we had an open discussion, during which the participants shared some of their own practices for cultivating gratitude.

Following our discussion we took some time for a silent exercise.  I invited the participants to take some time to reflect on some of the people who have had a significant positive impact on their lives and then to pick one of those persons and write a thank-you letter to them.  (“Write” as in take out a pen and put words on paper, not compose on a computer.)  After that, we paired up to share with each other something about the person to whom we wrote the note.  At the end we talked about some of the benefits of this particular practice, which was a very positive experience for all of us.

You can access a recording of my reflection here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 18:06.)

So Much For Which to Give Thanks

Yesterday, I saw a fabulous production of Shakespeare’s Othello by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Like the MetLive productions of NY Metropolitan Opera performances, a film of a live performance of the play was showing in a local theater. I was enthralled while watching and my husband and I continued to talk about it as we traveled home afterward.

As I sat this morning reflecting back on my day yesterday: morning Mass at the parish at which I direct RCIA, an afternoon seeing this powerful play, a lovely dinner at home with my husband (accompanied by a nice red wine), and then watching the Mets win the second game of the playoffs against the Cubs – I was struck by a wave of gratitude.

The practice of gratitude is always part of my daily Examen, but some days I feel the waves of gratitude more strongly than others. This morning I thought of all the people in the world who spend the bulk of their day trying to find food to feed themselves, people for whom a day of leisure must seem like a dream. I thought of all the people who barely have enough money to pay their bills and could not think of spending $20 to see a production of a Shakespeare play or the cost of a nice bottle of wine with their dinner (assuming they have dinner). And, of course, the people who don’t have a choice of at least several parishes within 10 minutes of their home to go to Mass. Those thoughts and more flooded my mind and I felt a profound sense of gratitude.

If you have not done so already today, take a few minutes to notice all of things for which you are grateful. And find some way to express that gratitude to God.

Formal Prayer and Praying

While looking for a youtube on video, I came across an interview with the Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast.  He is someone who has been very influential to me and I have cited him here before.

The first question the interviewer asked Brother David was how many times a day he prayed.  Brother David replied by explaining that one needed to distinguish between formal prayer times and praying.  Praying, he suggested, is something we should be doing all of the time.  As for prayer times, he explained that the Rule of Benedict called for seven periods of prayer during the day and one during the night.  But these formal ones, he suggested are really not so important in themselves.  Rather they exist to remind us to be praying at all times.

I think I take issue with calling them “not so important,” in that my experience praying in Benedictine communities is that those formal periods of prayer can be quite powerful.  But I do think there is something to the suggestion that these formal prayer periods are what remind us – and perhaps what enable us – to pray all of the time.

What does it mean to pray at all times?  Brother David put it this way: “To be praying at all times means to be moment by moment attuned to life attuned to what life wants from you.”

Here is the entire interview:

(For those reading by e-mail, if you have trouble seeing the video, click-through to the blog itself.)

Thanksgiving Examen

I’ve shared before different versions of a daily Examen.

Louis Savary’s The New Spiritual Exercises in the Spirit of Pierre Teillhard de Chardin includes a Thanksgiving Examen.  The Examen, which is meant to be done at the end of each day (though it can be done more frequently) has five steps.  Here is how Savary lays them out:

1.  To give thanks in general to God our Lord for the benefits received in your life, in others, and in the world today.

2.  To ask for grace to recognize all those particular things that happened to you and others that you should personally be grateful for.

3.  To take account of your day from the hour that you arose up to the present time, hour by hour, or period by period: first your good thoughts, ideas, and intentions; then your good words spoken and heard; and then good acts, your actions and those of others, small or large, that positively touched your life or the life of someone else.  Record these in your journal.

4.  To praise and thank Go our Lord for all the opportunities you had to make a difference in the world today and to inspire you to recognize more and more such opportunities in the future.

5.  To thank God for all God has done for you, and to ask yourself: What can I envision doing that would lead me to be even more deeply grateful?  Close with an Our Father.

Whether or not your daily prayer currently includes an Examen, you might consider giving this one a try.

It is Always Thanksgiving

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving Day. Many people gathered with family and friends over tables laden with delicious food.

It is good that we have a day on our annual calendar devoted to giving thanks. However, if we live our lives with the awareness that everything is gift from God, then every day is Thanksgiving Day.

An important step in the Ignatian Examen, something that has been part of my daily prayer for many years, is to review our day in gratitude. Dennis Hamm, S.J., suggests that we “walk through the past 24 hours, from hour to hour, from place to place, task to task, person to person, thanking the Lord for every gift you encounter.” The idea is to notice, as we look back over our day, all of the many gifts we were given over the course of the day. We recall quite specifically all of our gifts and we give thanks.

So, as you recover from a day of merriment (and perhaps overeating), take some time today for a prayer of thanksgiving.

For myself, I will give special thanks for my family today, as we gather this afternoon for the wedding of my niece Brittany – the first of my nieces and nephews to get married!

A Blessing for This Thanksgiving Day

I once before shared a blessing my friend and colleague Jennifer Wright sent to me. I can’t think of a better prayer for this day; it expresses well my wish for all of you as we celebrate this Thanksgiving Day.

May you be with people you love.
May you eat tasty, satisfying food that has been prepared with love and with laughter.
May you reach out to someone outside your immediate circle to share your blessings.
May you be overwhelmed with gratitude for the bounty that you have received.
May you be aware of the depths of your roots in your family and your past and of the infinite potential of your future.
May you repose in utter trust in God’s love for you and God’s amazing, overflowing, creatively stunning intention for good for all of God’s creation.

As I prepare to celebrate this holiday with my family, I wish you and yours a blessed and happy Thanksgiving Day.

And, as you gather with family and friends, I hope you will take some time to revel in gratitude at all that you have been given, and to remember the source of all you are and all you have.

Recognizing Those Who Often Go Unnoticed

This morning we had a little good-bye party in the law school Atrium for Pete, the primary law school security guard, who is retiring after having served in the University for 30 years, the last 10 of which have been spent at the law school. Every day since I started teaching here, no matter how early I arrive (and I tend to arrive early) Pete has been there at his station.

Rob Vischer, our dean, offered some brief comments after we gave Pete some gifts and before we dove into the cake. Rob observed that while all schools have security stations that are exactly that – a station that provides some security for the community – the security station manned by Pete served more like a front porch. A place to come sit (or at least stand) a while. Pete always took time to greet students and took a keen interest in how they were doing. Pete was, Rob suggested, as much teacher as security guard in the caring he modeled for students, faculty and staff alike. He shared an e-mail from an alum who had graduated almost a decade ago (an alum, Rob joked, who hadn’t even written when Rob became dean, but who wrote as soon as word of Pete’s impending retirement spread), talking about how much Pete’s presence added to his law school experience.

As I listened to Rob, I thought of all the Pete’s in various organizations, the people who are part of the glue that holds entities together. People who are not high enough on the chain of command, or “important” enough by hierarchical standards to be recognized for the work they are doing – until they are ready to retire. At that point, as we become conscious of their impending absence, we acknowledge directly, perhaps for the first time, how much they mean to us, the hole their departure will leave.

Why wait until those people are ready to retire to recognize them and express gratitude for who they are and all they contribute?

Who are the Pete’s in your school, your workplace, your church, or the other organizations of which you are a part? Have you thanked them lately? Or done anything to let them know you see them and appreciate them?

Note: I will take off immediately after teaching my two classes this morning to drive to the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I will be presenting an weekend Ignatian preached retreat. I ask you to keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.

Walking!

I love to walk. Long hikes. Short walks. Climbing rocks. Walking along a shoreline. So long as I am outside, feeling the ground beneath my feet, I feel good. At peace. Relaxed in spirit (even if I’m struggling physically with a steep climb).

Winter started arriving pretty soon after my return from my Camino walk in November. After walking five to six hours a day while on pilgrimage, the cold weather deterred me from venturing out too often for walks.

As it has in many parts of the United States, it has been a very cold and snowy winter. And my body has been feeling it. Walk me, my legs have been crying. I was starting to really feel the effects of limiting my exercise to what can be done indoors.

Then all of a sudden this week, we have gotten some warmer days. Monday and Tuesday we saw temperatures into the high 40s. Yesterday, was the monthly gathering of my peer supervision group. We meet at the Basilica, which is about a seven or eight block walk from the law school. I looked out the window, saw the sun was shining, checked the temperature and decided 26 degrees, although colder than the prior two days, was warm enough for a good walk. (Yes, I know it is perhaps a sign that I’ve been living in the Twin Cities too long that 26 seems “warm enough.”)

I walked to the Basilica and back again after my meeting and can only say, I felt good. Really good. Happy. If I could whistle (I really can’t – never could), I’d have been whistling through the streets.

And so this morning, as I reflect back on the feeling I had yesterday, I am giving thanks. I am grateful for the sunshine. Grateful for the (at least relative) warmth. Grateful for the beauty of the world we inhabit. Grateful for the physical health that lets me get out and about. Just grateful.

The Guesthouse

At this week’s session of the Buddhist Christian Interspirituality Discussion Group I facilitate, we discussed equanimity. Yesterday, one of the participants in the group shared with me this poem of Rumi’s, which our discussion reminded her of. The poem, which I had read many years ago but was happy to be reminded of, is titled The Guesthouse.

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 are 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 whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Be grateful for whatever comes. As St. Ignatius would say, it all has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper repsonse to our life in God.