Next week’s Thanksgiving holiday will be unlike what we expected. Given the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to contain the spread of the virus, plans for large gatherings have been put on hold. Many are likely feeling the disappointment of cancelling much anticipated trips to be with friends and family. Sharing the same physical space with the ones we love is usually a source of so much joy. But like so much of this year, the re-imagined event of Thanksgiving likely brings to the surface some difficult feelings and longings to return to the routines of pre-pandemic life.
Despite the challenges, Thanksgiving, even in these circumstances, provides an opportunity to create in ourselves some healthy inner space for naming what we are grateful for. It is important to note that naming gratitude might not be possible, or even advisable, if you are feeling the opposite of grateful these days. This is especially the case for anyone struggling with mental health challenges like depression. Do not force awareness of gratitude if you are not ready for it. As Jim Manney writes in A Simple Life-Changing Prayer, it can sound like a trick to melancholy people to name gratitude that is not real. So please be gentle with yourself as you proceed through this gratitude meditation.
Gratitude is not only at the center of the celebration of Thanksgiving but also at the core of the examen (described here in Mission in Motion and practiced every Friday at 12 pm EST as part of our SCS Daily Digital Meditation – sign up here), which gives life to the Ignatian spirituality that animates our Georgetown values. Manney explains the examen’s emphasis on gratitude in this way:
“Gratitude is the key to Ignatian spirituality in two real senses – the key that unlocks the door, and the key in which the music is played. It’s both the context of prayer and the secret that explains everything…Virtues and spiritual blessings can become vague and abstract. The examen’s process of reflective thanksgiving makes them concrete. In time, gratitude can become an element of our everyday attitude.”
My invitation over the next week is to spend time in silence, growing in greater awareness of the persons, places, situations, and experiences for which you are grateful. Focus on the real, concrete experiences from your everyday life. You might focus on the things you are thankful for in the past day, past week, or some longer period of time, like this entire semester. Instead of judging what comes up for you, just allow the experiences of gratitude to float by in your imagination as in a parade.
The examen practice invites us to grow in relationship with the Transcendent, which some of us name as God and others might name as Ultimate Goodness, Beauty, Mystery or something else. Whatever name we use, I invite you to allow yourself to let God guide you in this meditation. Some questions you might consider as you sift through the gratitude that arises in you during your time of silence:
- How do you feel when you become aware of the gratitude that surfaces? Does the gratitude make you feel loved, supported, inspired, challenged, etc?
- What is the first gratitude that comes to your mind? Is there significance in this being the first gift that you recall?
- Are there challenging feelings or events that present themselves as gratitude? Do you feel like these challenges are inviting you to grow and develop in some ways?
We have much to be thankful for at Georgetown SCS. This semester has been challenging but the community of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and others have come together in a spirit of mutual support. We continue to rely on one another to make good on the promise of a Georgetown education. May this Thanksgiving week be a time of needed pause, reflection, and gratitude.