Show the video “Holiday Dinner”.
For what do we truly give thanks? The father in the video seems to sense that this practice of gratitude should be about more than possessions, but he does not seem able to quite name it.
The daughter seems able to go more to the heart, and to name her gratitude for the life she has. Of everyone at the table, she seems to be the one who recognizes that all that she has in life, that is worth having, comes from God. I hear in her words, an echo of what Jesus was teaching when he gave his followers the Lord’s Prayer. “Give us this day our daily bread”
The subtle teaching in that prayer is that whether or not we realize it on a daily basis, we are dependent upon God, each day, for all that we need to live.
Part of why giving thanks is such an important spiritual practice, is it is about slowing down, and paying attention in the present. A good word for this is mindfulness, to be aware, in the present.
The Buddhist teacher and writer, Jon Kabat Zinn in his book “Coming to Our Senses” offered an exercise used to each mindfulness. It is now used all over the world, and is popularly known as the “raisin meditation”- although I learned yesterday that my kids learned a version of it at camp this summer called the “muffin meditation”.
Pass out boxes of raisins. Ask everyone to take one out the box, but not to eat it.
Take a few conscious breaths and invite the group to do so with me. Remaining grounded in my breathing, I offer a little explanation, how this is a miniature mindfulness meditation.
When everyone has their raisins, I invite people to hold up one raisin in their fingers. (If people have already eaten one or both of their raisins, I say, “That’s part of the meditation too!”)
I invite the community look deeply at their raisin. Pinching it lightly between our fingers, we can sense its juice. Looking deeper, we can see in that wateriness in the cloud that rained upon it: the raisin even looks like a miniature cloud.
Put it to your nose and see what it tells you. It smells sweet, but also with a musty, earthy smell. Indeed, looking at it again, we can sense the soil from which it grew. Put it in your palm and heft its weight: slight but palpable.
Consider that it was once a grape, now dried by the sun. Indeed, we can see the sun in the raisin, in its wrinkles. And the sun is present in its atoms thanks to the process of photosynthesis that nourished it. So eating a raisin, we are eating the earth and the sun.
By now, we might notice we’re breathing. We can consider how the raisin too has been breathing. Plants inhale our carbon dioxide, and we inhale their oxygen. So we can also see air in the raisin.
Earth, fire, water, air — all four elements of the universe have come together in this one raisin. The entire cosmos is present in the palm of our hand.
Holding the raisin now up to our ear and crinkling it in our fingers, we can hear its seeds rubbing against each other. Once it was a grape, now it’s a raisin, and the seeds can give rise to future grapes : all part of an unbroken, eternal cycle of transformation.
Invite the community to prepare to eat the raisin. Holding it up to our mouth and looking at it without eating, notice our anticipation. This too is part of the raisin, for our minds. So we notice our appetite without actually acting upon it, like noting an itch without scratching it.
When we’re ready, we watch our fingers placing the raisin to our lips. If we like, we might roll it around a little in our lips, before passing it into our mouth. (Still, we aren’t biting into the raisin just yet.)
Inside our mouth, the raisin meets our tongue. Probe the raisin with our tongue. Please notice how sensitive an organ our tongue is.
Move the raisin around in our mouth. Notice how sensitive our mouths can be. Place the raisin at the roof of our mouth, and suck on it for a few breaths, in final preparation.
Now, take a preliminary bite. Notice how it squishes forth a burst of raisin juice in our mouth.
Our job now is to stay with our breath, and slowly chew. Without swallowing. Notice the impulse to swallow before food is fully chewed. Keeping the raisin in our mouth, still chewing, notice how it transforms in taste as it mixes with our saliva. This way, we’re beginning the digestive process in our mouths (and taking a load off our stomach). Our goal is keep chewing until it is completely liquid.
When we’re thoroughly done chewing, we swallow the raisin. Then we enjoy a few breaths as we notice a kind of aftertaste of the raisin comes back to us. If we could enjoy this moment in between each mouthful of meal, we might know better when we’ve had enough.
Later, on your own, you can eat the rest of the raisins. If you give each one the kind of attention you gave this one, you might marvel at how each experience was unique.
No two raisins are alike. No two snowflakes are alike. No two moments are alike. No two people are alike. Yet we all share in the present moment. If we’re present, and aware of the present moment, we can continually appreciate the wonders of just being alive. Indeed, the present moment is a wonder-full moment. The present moment can be enough, and cause to give thanks.
The choir sang some verses from Daiyenu, a traditional Jewish song at the beginning of this morning’s service. It is a song sung at Passover, in gratitude for all that God has done for the Jewish people, as they remember their escape from Egypt, and their journey to a promised land of their own.
Daiyenu means, “It is enough.” God has done enough. When we recognize what God has done, we can be freed from the persistent desire for more, more, more.
If we could slow down, and savour, and really taste each moment of our lives, we might grow in gratitude, and realize that this moment, this now, this is enough.
We might recall the taste of that raisin, and say, Daiyenu, it is enough.
We might think of a moment when we experienced the love and compassion of another human being, and say, Daiyenu, it is enough.
We might see the brilliant colours of the leaves turning, and say, Daiyenu, it is enough.
We might think of a bird or animal we have seen this week, that reminded us of the goodness of creation, and say, Daiyenu, it is enough.
There may be an event you are looking forward to, like a good meal, or the dessert after the meal. You can find pleasure in every bite, every morsel, and when you are done, put down your fork and say, Daiyenu, it is enough.
There may be the memory of a special moment of friendship or relationship, that still lives in your heart, and when you recall it, you may feel moved to say, Daiyenu, it is enough..
It may be that a piece of music, or the words of a poem, or a piece of art has touched you, deep inside, and that the sensations, the emotions, the thoughts that are evoked have brought such richness in that moment that you can say, Daiyenu, it is enough.
There may be a moment today, or this week, when the sheer wonder, and gift of being alive, and able to taste, and see, and smell, and hear, and touch, and feel, and think, and remember, and sing, and pray will seem so amazing and wonderful, that you will quietly say, thank you God, Daiyenu, it is enough. Amen