When I sat down for a very Pacific Northwest Thanksgiving dinner (opting for grilled salmon instead of Turkey) with a group of not-especially-religious friends, I didn’t expect someone to ask this question. We all had our plates piled high with food in front of us, but just before eating one of the hosts thought that the moment wouldn’t be complete unless some words were shared.
But what words?
Should we pray? Nah, too churchy.
And so the group of us, many of whom were meeting for the very first time, shared what we were thankful for. There were the simple things like health, family, and freedom, but also some more personal moments of gratitude. Someone offered thanks that we live in a place that affords the freedoms to gather while struggling to find words to describe those places that lack such freedoms. Thanks was given for the new life of a 5 week old child at the table while acknowledging some of the challenges that can bring. And many of us shared thanks for simply being a part of that gathered community when many of our families were far away.
Maybe calling that time around the table a sacred moment pulls too far over into the “religious” sounding language. But here were a group of people being vulnerable with one another while enjoying their salmon. Acknowledging our mutual gratitude as well as our mutual brokenness as we broke homemade rosemary bread. Searching for the right words to say while we sipped our wine. Finding community in the stranger seated next to us.
There aren’t too many moments when society feels the collective need for a ritual and some words. A funeral or a wedding, maybe. Times of transition. And Thanksgiving. And all these times also give us just a moment to pause and consider this yearn we share to be a part of something larger than ourselves, even if we don’t always know what to say.