Come to Our Senses this Thanksgiving

Come to Our Senses

Over the past two months, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to facilitate six sessions of Engaging Active Hope at Cranaleith Spiritual Center.  Each Sunday afternoon a group has gathered to share our gratitude for this precious Earth we call Home; to name and honor the pain we feel as we witness its desecration and destruction; to seek new understandings of our shared strength and determination to act for the well-being of all; and to go forth, every day, with renewed intentions to live in ways that heal Earth, and one another.

https://workthatreconnects.org/spiral/
photo credit:  Dori Midnight

This work, inspired by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone’s book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, has been happening for many years in congregational basements, retreat centers, study circles, and even online.  But that didn’t prepare us when, halfway through the series, the exact work we’re engaged in showed up in a New York Times article, “Apocalypse Got You Down?  Maybe This Will Help:  Searching for a cure for my climate crisis grief.”  In fact, we feel even less alone, and grateful this important work is being embraced by such a mainstream audience.   

Every session of Engaging Active Hope begins in gratitude.  This resonates for me, as every faith tradition offers practices of gratitude – for Life itself; for the gifts of air, water, and the good earth; and for fellow beings.  I’ve dubbed my favorite practice ‘Coming to Our Senses’ because that is, literally and figuratively, the most fundamental, and most hope-filled action we can take in facing the state of our planetary home. 

Here’s how it goes:

Call to mind something you’re grateful happened over the past day or two. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. Just something that, when you remember it, you think ‘I’m glad that happened.’ 

Got it? Now try to call to mind what the setting was like – the light, the colors, the sounds and smells … everything that fills out the memory to the fullest. Savor the memory as your senses revisit it.  

Group of People Making Toast
photo credit: fauxels

And now, silently or out loud, give thanks for what, or who, helped make that moment happen – for we are not self-made, nor isolated, beings.  We  are part of the interconnected web of all existence, and there is always something, seen and unseen, at work in our world. 

When we are fully present, bathed in all we are gifted by a single, precious moment, we come to our senses.  And when we are filled with gratitude, for even a moment, we are strengthened by the vast net of relationships that holds and sustains us. And then, we have the courage to see what we must see – that is, we Come to Our Senses – and are moved to act on behalf of this awesomely beautiful, broken world.

As you share this holiday with friends and family, remember to pause to fill your senses with the aromas of familiar foods and fall colors, especially in this time of great challenge, and boundless hope –

The Rev. Alison Cornish
Executive Director

P.S. We are considering offering an online version of Engaging Active Hope in 2020.  If you’re interested, please email us at info@paipl.org so we can let you know our plans!

Thanksgiving.

Republished email, sent Nov. 21, 2017.  Get added to our mailing list!  

Thanksgiving is our shared national holy day.  It is fitting that it is rooted in gratitude —a practice that grounds all of our faith traditions.  Refocusing ourselves there can help us drink in all that is good about this time of gathering, even as we hold and seek healing for the close-in aches of illness, loneliness, or challenging relationships and wider-circle aches of wounded communities and ecosystems that can can be especially visible in contrast.  Thanksgiving is a day when these things are juxtaposed: the bounty of the harvest, the voice of an old friend or beloved, the holes where things are not whole, and the spaces where the commercial world is banging at the door to chase us from gratitude and to acquisition.*

We invite you to join PA IPL around the table this week, too.  Enjoy your food.  Eat all the leftovers.  Then also hold a few moments or hours to get out into the slanting light of November. Go slowly.  Breathe deeply — we’re breathing with you.  Feel the solid ground holding you up.  Savor one small specific moment and share it with us, via email or on our Facebook page.  Perhaps you will make something beautiful.  Perhaps you will clear a little space for a native plant to breathe.  Perhaps you will heal a small corner of a place.  Or bless the grass.  Or laugh at an active squirrel.  When you come back indoors, share the moment, however you wish to do so — a photo, a sketch, songs or poems that you sing, or read, or write, or maybe even a 6-word story.

(The photo we’ve shared here is a grand sweep rather than a small moment.  It was taken just a few weeks ago by the Rev. John Creasy, a member of our Board, on the farm he manages on a hillside directly below a water tower right in Pittsburgh —  a gift as he was working on the harvest.)

For those of you looking for prayers of harvest or thanksgiving, in a past year we gathered a good group still collected here.  Extend the season of gratitude by printing or forwarding them, and reach for a new one each day before a meal, or as you return home.  Looking for tools for conversations instead?  We collected a few of those in a previous year, too, and just today ran into this piece about a longtime skeptic changing his mind.

*Those who were able to attend our 2017 Annual Conference got a beautiful glimpse of shared practices in the work of Joanna Macy, who always begins with gratitude. A conference statement from the program book introduces one part of her work.  More is available at The Work that Reconnects and we’d be happy to connect you with one of the many talented folks in our networks who has studied with Joanna Macy to help design a workshop in your neck of the woods.  Just ask!

Gratitude and wonder.

A Cornucopia of Thanks: our Thanksgiving 2014 post has multi-faith table prayer resources, and begins with a prayer: squirrel

God of sun and God of rain,
In you, there is no dryness.
In you, no weed chokes the root.
No blight  …. read more and get the links to all the multi-faith stuff.

And if you want to think about different ways to approach climate change conversations with family this Setting the Table, Planting the Seeds post is for you.

Our 2013 Thanksgiving post shared this gorgeous movie, which is free, but cannot be embedded.  It’s beautiful, wonder-filled, and free and is worth streaming on a big screen to share with others once the dark settles in.  Read more, and maybe check out the movie.  Before that, though, do get outside, no matter the weather.  Watch the sky.  Pick up a leaf.  Breathe.  And give thanks.

A cornucopia of thanks.

There are prayers and songs from every faith tradition for giving thanks and for celebrating the harvest.   Click around and find some that sing to you.  Use them to express gratitude or reawaken it (we all have those days!), and on any day you wish.   Links below the reprinted prayer.

This modern prayer, God of All Harvests, is slightly abridged from the original to make it more universal.  It comes from Catholic Relief Services, where you can find it printed in its entirety.

God of sun and God of rain,
In you, there is no dryness.
In you, no weed chokes the root.
No blight withers the leaf.
No frost bites at the blossom.

coffee-harvesting
Coffee harvest photo from Equal Exchange

And, so, we pray for farmers and their
harvests everywhere.

In you, seeds of tears yield a bountiful harvest of joy.
May the rice farmer in Madagascar know
such bounty.

In you, seeds of truth and courage yield a bountiful harvest of justice.
May the coffee farmer in Honduras know Continue reading A cornucopia of thanks.

Setting the table, planting the seeds.

image source
image source

Gathering with friends and family (chosen or otherwise) is so important. Thanksgiving is an extraordinary day: a day in which we pause together, welcome one another and offer thanks together.

Some of us will find ourselves seated with people with whom we rarely agree. If your Uncle Hal is someone who believes that a good argument is essential to complete digestion, you’re just stuck.

On the other hand, if you’re simply sitting at a table with people with sometimes-oppositional worldviews, you don’t have to set yourself up for conflict, and you can talk about what matters to you.

Instead of leading with climate change, lead instead with your motivation. Why have you stepped into this work?   Reach to a more personal place than the dual call that all our faiths share to care for the most vulnerable people and for the earth and all that it holds. Have particular experiences in the natural world filled you with wonder and awe? Healing? Peace? Joy? Share those. Invite others around the table to do the same, or to reflect on what has opened the door to those feelings.

Or what about beginning with a conversation with what we truly value, what makes us feel Continue reading Setting the table, planting the seeds.

Thanks at Thanksgiving, plus a little inspirational downtime

It seems appropriate this week of Thanksgiving to share our ways of giving thanks.  My family joins hands and sings a simple grace most nights as we gather around the table.

Evening is here
the board is spread
thanks be to God
who gives us bread

The one below  is longer, and we use it less often, but it’s one of my favorites.  It captures so much in so few words, and I am thankful for the miracle of renewing life that provides my food, and for all the hands that touch it from seed to mouth.  It can be sung in a 4-part round.

For sun and rain
for grass and grain
for all who toil
on sea and soil
that we may eat
this daily food
we give our loving thanks to God.

Does anyone else have favorites?  Please share in the comments!

Inspirational downtime
When you’re done with your dinner, your post-prandial walk, and as many games of Clue, charades and Bananagrams as you can handle for one evening, consider sharing some truly stunning scenery with your family.  It might even count for extra credit in earth science for your middle school relatives.

Several PA IPL members in State College recently attended a screening of the 93-minute video, HOME at Penn State.  The website description introduces the film in the paragraph below.  Reviews just call it “eye candy”   It’s available in several languages, so choose the one you know best, or one you’re learning. 

“Internationally renowned photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand makes his feature directorial debut with this environmentally conscious documentary produced by Luc Besson, and narrated by Glenn Close. Shot in 54 countries and 120 locations over 217 days, Home presents the many wonders of planet Earth from an entirely aerial perspective. As such, we are afforded the unique opportunity to witness our changing environment from an entirely new vantage point. In our 200,000 years on Earth, humanity has hopelessly upset Mother Nature’s delicate balance. Some experts claim that we have less than ten years to change our patterns of consumption and reverse the trend before the damage is irreversible. Produced to inspire action and encourage thoughtful debate, Home poses the prospect that unless we act quickly, we risk losing the only home we may ever have.”

Arthus-Bertrand’s website GoodPlanet has more stunning film related to the International Year of Forests.  A series of free photo-art posters are available for schools and others wanting to host educational events about forests.  They’re gorgeous.  Would they spark inspiration, discussion, or prayer in the halls of your congregation’s building?