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November 23, 2008: “A Thank You Note to the Universe, Intergenerational Thanksgiving Sunday”

‘Twas the Night of Thanksgiving,

But I just couldn’t sleep.
I tried counting backwards,
I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned
The dark meat and white,
But I fought the temptation
With all of my might.
Tossing and turning
With anticipation,
The thought of a snack
Became infatuation.
So I raced to the kitchen,
Flung open the door,
And gazed in the fridge
Full of goodies galore.
I gobbled up turkey
And buttered potatoes,
Pickles and carrots,
Beans and tomatoes.
I felt myself swelling
So plump and so round,
Till all of a sudden,
I rose off the ground!
I crashed through the ceiling,
Floating into the sky
With a mouthful of pudding
And a handful of pie.
But I managed to yell
As I soared past the trees…
-Author Unknown

Perhaps you've heard  of the story about the child who was asked to say Grace and was  mumbling the prayer when the parent said to speak more clearly because the prayer couldn't be understood, the child said: That's cause I wasn't talking to you!

The most agreed upon part of Thanksgiving is that there is lots of food. I heard that  Erma Bombeck once said that the most remarkable thing about her mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. Some of us believe that about our Thanksgiving meal.

There are those practical back to the earth people who decide to raise their own holiday turkey. Some say that some people are squeamish about this, but one particular turkey-raiser said he wasn't squeamish. "One January," this person related, "our family got together and picked out a turkey to raise, who became like a member of the family. We kept him in the house, fed him, and took him for walks. But when the time came, there was no nonsense about it. We had him for Thanksgiving dinner. He sat on my right."  

I titled this Thanksgiving sermon, A Thank you Note to the Universe. See, when I was little, I can remember how my mom used to make me write Thank-you Notes to people who gave me stuff, like on Xmas or my birthday. Most of us have been taught to be polite (and to get something we wanted) we had to say those magic words, please and thank you.

I'll have to admit that I didn't like writing thank you notes. I could never figure out what to say after I said Thank you for my gift. I really liked it. It was just what I wanted. I'll treasure it forever, or some other words that sounded good. Yes, I must confess to y'all, that I wasn't really thankful for that stuff, especially if it was pajamas or new mittens, or something so weird I would never wear it in public in a million years. But now that I am older and many of those loved ones are now dead, I realize just how thankful I am to the love they gave me through some of the presents they gave me, now I am deeply thankful for my family and friends who have made my life happy and rich. I also learned that we express our love through our thankfulness.

    Let's try it over these holidays. Let's try to show our gratitude for those in our family, school, church, group of friends, work, etc. Let's also be grateful for ourselves: "Be grateful for yourself," writes novelist William Saroyan; "Yes, for yourself. Be thankful. Understand what a person is is something we can be grateful for, and ought to be grateful for." Indeed in our spirit, our personality, our divine spark within, whatever we call it, there is a sense that as individuals we have had to make choices, we learned to respond and to love. We are more than a sum total of people who have influenced us. In an unselfish way, it is good to love ourselves, to appreciate ourselves, and to be thankful that we are who we are, or if not, to change ourselves.

But sometimes Thanksgiving comes at a time when were not feeling very thankful. perhaps. Once upon a time in India, a maharajah and his retinue of servants were traveling on a ship when a great storm arose. One of the servants began to cry out and wail in fear. His crying was so loud and prolonged that everyone on board began to be annoyed. The maharajah was about ready to throw him overboard, but instead went to his chief advisor, a sage, who promised he would cure the man.

The sage ordered the man thrown overboard. The moment the servant found himself in the sea, he began to scream in real terror and thrashed about wildly, convinced that he was now indeed going to die. After a few minutes, the sage ordered that he should be hauled back onto the ship.    Once aboard again, he lay in a corner in absolute silence. When the maharajah asked the sage for the lesson to be learned, the sage replied: "We never realize how lucky we are until our situation gets worse."

 Let me share as more contemporary story, a true story from Texas, and I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but this one is true. It's about Dan Rather, the famous newsperson and native Texan. He wanted to go to Sam Houston State Teachers college, because he thought he wanted to be a school teacher. Since there was little money in the family, he would need a scholarship to go to any college. So he went out for the football team, hoping to get a football scholarship. He wasn't very big so he got bumped around a lot. Finally the coach came up to him and put his arms around him and said softly, "Son, I watched you out there the whole time today. And I want to tell you something I hope will stay with you the rest of your life. Because if it does, it'll be of no small value to you. You're little." The coach paused for a moment then added one more thing, "And you're yellow!"

Rather looks back and sees this as an influential moment in his life. "By cutting off my so-called scholarship, Coach had crushed a dream; eliminated my chance at housing in the athletic dorm; and I might have been driven out of college all together. As it turned out, however, the coach had done me an immeasurable service. To stay in school, I latched onto an apprentice sportscaster's spot at a little radio station, and my obsession with football abated sufficiently so I could shift my attentions to where they would do me the most good for the long run--my journalism courses."

So we can even be thankful for our failures! Yes, some of us have more to be thankful for than others, don't we. So every Thanksgiving, whether for success or failures and every year there's a usually a combination, I write a Thank you note to the Universe, I like to say.  Maybe that's another way of talking about the idea of praying to God or being thankful to a divine being, because I'm not quite sure what that means, you see. That's all part o the great mystery to me, that's the how scholars are saying we should probably translate the native American term Great Spirit by the way, - Great Mystery, which I'm much more comfortable with, because it hasn't been institutionalized   into a creed or a male pronoun that judges me. No our Universalist heritage believed simply in three words that used to be on a lot of their buildings and that I also like that just said simply, right from the Bible, God is love. And my Thank You Note to the Universe is always about being thankful for the people around me who have made such a difference in my life, bring me meaning, love, support, joy. I should make sure those people know how much they mean to me as well, shouldn't I? Do you? Traditional religions always talk about thanking God, who should after all, know already that were thankful, being an all knowing being. Maybe those religions should teach us to thank our families more! Our teachers, our friends, yes, anyone to whom we should tell out loud that we are grateful.

 It is always a reminder to me that I am also a part of the universe, an interdependent part of that web, that I am a co creator, which means I have to take part of the blame but give myself some credit, and realize that there are parts I can't control. And most importantly is the transforming power and strength of love, that passes all understanding but is what makes life worthwhile does it not? Let's close with a Thanksgiving prayer to the universe-

O source of life and love,  o spirit divine and universal, O spirit holy and sacred in all times and places and people, help us to live our lives to the fullest while helping others do the same. Help us to love, giving more than taking, sharing more than hoarding, loving more than hating, being generous more than being selfish.  Help us to love and forgive ourselves more than feeling guilt or bad. Help us to not only love peace more than war, justice more than injustice, feeding the poor more than feeding ourselves gourmet dinners, but also to work towards changing the world and ourselves for the better, for loving and giving  more  and for being deeply thankful  as well as deeply thinkful.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Go with the transforming power of love in your heart, in your mind and in your daily living …

Opening Words
Thanksgiving Prayer

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.

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

My friend and colleague, Burton Carley, minister of the UU Church of the River in Memphis, Tennessee writes :
Thanksgiving meditation
In gratitude we come:
For the harvest that makes possible our Thursday table
For the soil that makes possible the fertile earth
For the tiny seeds that makes possible great goods
For the rain that makes possible the cycle of life
For the sun that makes possible green growing things
For the seasons which make possible the ripeness of time.

In gratitude we come:
For the hands that make possible the harvest
For the creativity that makes possible the mind fertile
For the seedling of hope that makes possible tomorrow’s joy
For the tears happy and sad that makes possible their telling
For the light within that makes possible the answering yes
For the seasons of the soul that make possible a journey.
O Source of life who makes all things possible
Lets loose grace as a sea without shores
Provides the miracle and mystery upon which we float
We offer to thee a prayer of Thanksgiving.

For a Bountiful Harvest Of Friends

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people.
For children who are our second planting,
and though they grow like weeds
and the wind too soon blows them away,
may they forgive us our cultivation
and fondly remember where their roots are.
Let us give thanks: For generous friends…
with hearts as big as hubbards
and smiles as bright as their blossoms.
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who like scallions and cucumbers,
keep reminding us that we’ve had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants
and as elegant as a row of corn,
and the others, as plain as potatoes and as good for you.
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts
and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes
and serious friends, as complex as cauliflower and as intricate as onions.
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash,
as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini,
and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter.
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time,
and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils
and hold us, despite our blights, wilts and witherings;
And, finally, for those friends now gone,
like gardens past that have been harvested,
and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.
-Rev. Max Coots, Minister Emeritus, Unitarian Universalist Church
Canton, NY