With thanks to the Rev. Sonya Sukalski for this post! -ed.
We accept life’s gifts with grace and gratitude and use them to bless the world.
This piece of the chalice lighting often heard at Starr King School for the Ministry is an easy sentiment to connect to at Thanksgiving. Through the jostling at the dinner table about who says “Grace” and prodding about every person present voicing their gratitude, we try to reconnect to the abundance of harvest time. “Grace” as a word for what we do before a meal (sometimes, perhaps not often enough) has not always retained its meaning as something we enjoy but did not earn.
The apple tree in my back yard reminds me of this and opens doors to the joy of our interdependence. I have to pause to thank the woman who planted and nurtured the tree. I have to thank the workers who laid pipe and keep water flowing so that in times of drought, it was able to have life-sustaining liquid. I ponder the first people to try apples (Eve and Adam?), and know apples were good food. I do very little to this tree- I trim off the branches that break due to the weight of the apples, try to pare back the blossoms or tiny apples so that the branches don’t break, and then sit back and enjoy the shade. Hopefully taking time to notice the beauty of the fruit growing, and praying that I notice when the apples are ready to harvest. In the harvest, I am always limited by the time, help and imagination for products or recipes. There are always more apples than I know what to do with. Seeing this abundance connects me to grace, and helps me appreciate a world of plenty.
I wonder when people hunt and gather food, whether there is more of a connection to something larger, to an abundance that cannot be predicted, but shows up none-the-less? If we were to begin each day asking for the abundance we know is possible to show up in our lives, would we see with new eyes? Detect resources that we didn’t know were possible?
When we say “grace” before a meal, we acknowledge the gift of food and are grateful for the work of the many people who did all the right things to make our favorite dishes possible. In this season of Thanksgiving, I feel gratitude for the people bringing the squash, beans, potatoes, pumpkin pie, and other goodies of the season. It took seed to grow these crops, fertile ground ready to nurture the seeds, people to plant, tend, harvest and transport the crops, people to sell it to us, the ability to transport it home, and people to cook it to perfection. And of course, it wouldn’t be a feast without our loved ones and members of the community to celebrate it with.
When I think of the people who likely planted, tended, harvested, transported, and sold the food that became part of our Thanksgiving feast, I imagine there are a fair number who can’t spend time with their loved ones because they don’t have the papers to travel home and back. Some of them may have endured a terrifying journey through the desert on our Southern border to be able to make enough money to sustain their families. Some may be living in fear of being stopped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a parking or traffic violation, and immediately being held for deportation. Some may be enduring a loved one’s disappearance due to an ICE raid, and wondering where that person is being held and will end up. Realizing that our holiday feasts happen due to the hard, often back-breaking, work of people who may be spending the same holidays agonizing over the fate of loved ones, makes me want to reach out and share the gifts I didn’t earn. To share the gifts no one can earn – a smile, a compassionate remark, a willingness to hear someone’s story and concerns. Knowing that my holiday dinner depends on people from many walks of life makes me want to work some each day for a more just, compassionate, caring economic system. It calls me to work toward Comprehensive Immigration Reform so that all may partake in the grace of enjoying food and celebration in the company of those they love.
Rev. Sonya Sukalski is director of SALT (Spiritual Activist Leadership Training) an initiative of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California’s Young Leaders project. The project inspires, excites, and equips UU young adults to be the vital, genuine, spiritually grounded and skillful justice-making leaders the world needs and desires.