We all bow our heads around the table and close our eyes, except for my youngest son, Alistair.
He’s the one who will lead the prayer. His 3-year-old eyes remain open so he’ll know what he’s going to say because we have a growing tradition in our home where we pray for the things we see before us at dinner.
Tonight the litany is long as he gives thanks for the turkey, broccoli, “smashed” potatoes, napkins, milk, everyone around the table, and the ever-present but not always physically present “cousins and friends,” an ending to just about every grace in our home.
He doesn’t breathe between the words, and the whole thing tumbles out of his mouth like a beautifully chaotic poem. We love him for it.
“Amen,” he says with a final breath. “Amen,” we all chime. He smiles to himself, happy that he had the chance to pray tonight.
That kind of simple thank-you is something we’ve come to look forward to in our meals. It expresses an honest and authentic gratitude unadorned by flowery language. And as we approach our national day for giving thanks, I wonder if a return to that sort of simplicity might be called for in all our lives.
With information literally available at the push of a button, it’s not like we’re starved for data in these times. Cellphones are more prevalent than clean water in this new world we’re forming. Facts are thrown at us minute-by-minute by a constant news cycle that’s laced with a scrolling ticker at the bottom for the news under all of that news.
But when we’re thinking about consumption, and there’s no better day to think about that than Thanksgiving, perhaps taking on a simpler diet might be just what we need. It’s what I’m feeling I need.
Take a moment to just be aware of what is right in front of you at the table, to be aware of the people in your life, and just name them outright. This might be the simple thank-you appropriate for this Thanksgiving in our complex world.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving hymns comes from the Shaker tradition. Its lyrics ground me in these days:
When true simplicity is gained,
to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
till by turning, turning we come ’round right
(“Simple Gifts” by Joseph Brackett, 1848).
I don’t buy too deeply into the ideas of coming ’round right nor in gaining true simplicity, but I do long for a simpler life most days. I long for a simpler existence in this complex world, and seeking moments of extended pause has become a nonstop search for me. It’s not a desire to turn out “right,” as much as it’s a desire to be in the moment “right now.”
And trust me, if you want to pause in life, ask a 3-year-old to give the prayer at mealtime. You’ll find yourself giving thanks for only the things within eyesight.
That kind of simple thanks-giving is what I look forward to most this year.