When I first went to Elat Chayyim in 2002, back at the old venue in the Catskills, and first experienced the discipline of heartfelt daily prayer as an adult, I was struck by the modah ani prayer for gratitude with which we began our morning worship. It was one of the first prayer practices I adopted. These days I try to say modah ani every morning first thing: if it's not the first thought in my mind when the alarm goes off, I try to make it at least my first intentional or conscious thought as the shower wakes me from sleep.
Cultivating a mindset of gratitude is one of the reasons why I value my prayer practice. So much of Jewish liturgy is aimed at saying "thank you" in one way or another: thank you for this body, thank you for the soul which enlivens it, thank you for the fact that I am alive today. Thank you for the food we're about to eat; thank you for the food we've just eaten. Thank you for giving us the discernment and consciousness we need in order to mark and sanctify time. Thank you for the rhythm of weekdays; thank you for Shabbat which interrupts that rhythm. Thank you for the wisdom teachings which call us beyond ourselves.
There are times when it's hard for me to feel grateful. When I'm sick or hurting or in pain, or when something has gone wrong which clouds my ability to access thankfulness. But the practice of saying thank you doesn't stop on those days. In those moments, says my teacher Rabbi Jeff Roth, the best we can do may be to pray for the ability to feel gratitude at some future moment, and to say our words of gratitude in hopes that speaking the words will cause the emotion to arise in us. We don't only get to say "thank you" when we feel like it. My mother, who did her best to teach me proper southern manners, would surely approve.
In the United States today is a day for giving thanks. I have an enormous amount for which to be thankful today. Family and friends, our home and the hills, a glorious abundance of food, and an amazing web of interconnections with loved ones around the world: all of these sustain me, and us, this Thanksgiving. And I'm thankful for my online life, the friendships which have formed through these matrices of pixels and these asynchronous conversations. I'm thankful for all of you who read this blog, whether you comment often or rarely, whether we tend to agree or disagree.
Thanks for being there, y'all. The last six years of Velveteen Rabbi have been a grand adventure, and I look forward to seeing what kinds of conversations we have in years to come. If you're celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope your day is full and sweet! And if you're not, I hope you have a fine Thursday, wherever you are.
This evening at sundown begins Eid ul-Adha -- I wish an eid mubarak, a blessed eid, to all of my Muslim readers & friends!