Instead of reciting the same, rote family prayer at the dinner table this year, we asked clergy to share some advice on writing your own:
Some people can pray aloud in front of a group easily and spontaneously. Some will use the standard blessing, such as the "Bless us, o lord . . ." Other families will have a memorized thing or will have an opportunity for everyone to say what they're thankful for.
I certainly encourage people to pray spontaneously just to slow them down a bit -- sometimes things that we memorize we tend to say it so quickly. And sometimes to do something spontaneously allows for a little more reflection, a little more thought.
I tell people, if they're uncomfortable, it's OK. I find when people will allow themselves to pray spontaneously and aloud they come up with some really, really profound words and theologically sound prayers. I tell them, just say it in your own words.
-- The Rev. Samuel E. Houser
of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in York
So many times mealtime prayers can be traditional and repetitive.
It can be a good thing at Thanksgiving, when we're surrounded by family, for one of the parents to give a prayer of thanks for each one of the family members -- something unique for each person. Just to make it more personal -- whether it's a child or a grown-up -- just to hear a parent say, 'Thank you, God, for this child,' and pick out one of their strengths.
-- The Rev. Dean Landis
, formerly of Eagle Christian Ministries in York
Turn a complaint into a thanksgiving. Whatever we have has worth. I try to get (people) to look at the good side of things -- a roof over your head, the fact that you're still living and breathing and that you have all this to be thankful for -- especially at a time of job insecurity and economic instability.
People often take for granted things like being able to hear, think, see. I usually say to a lot of people how I used to complain about my shoes until I saw someone without shoes. I used to complain about my car until I saw someone with no car. I try to call people's attention to things like that.
-- The Rev. Rachel Jones Baxter
of Maranatha Church of God in Christ in York
My hunch is that the toughest part (of thankfulness) for most of us is getting into a frame of mind where we can even think thankful thoughts. They don't seem to just flow naturally, and that's probably because they're so counter-cultural.
A lot of what we see and hear around us smacks of scarcity thinking -- reminding us that we don't have enough of this or that, which is how we are persuaded to go out and buy more stuff, of course. So it takes some doing to get freed from that mindset.
Gratitude grows out of just the opposite: A sense of abundance -- a sense that we have more than enough of something . . .
Maybe members of a family could -- even for these few days between now and Thanksgiving -- each practice some intentional "giving" (give away something material or non-material) and see if it opens the way to some interesting conversation as they gather around the table.
Just a few moments of sharing -- with someone jotting down some notes -- could make a pretty fine prayer.
-- The Rev. Kay Rader
of Emmanuel United Church of Christ in York
For countless generations, individuals with no more talent or divine inspiration than the rest of us have composed magnificent works of liturgical poetry and prose with the same vocabulary accessible to us all.
The Union for Reform Judaism -- the umbrella organization that unites liberal congregations throughout North America -- recently adopted a new prayer book. In this version of the text, we find prayers written by our ancestors many hundreds of years ago, alongside magnificent modern liturgy composed over the last several years.
It is true that Jews have a prayer for just about everything: waking in the morning (thanking God for renewing our lives), using the bathroom (thanking God for allowing our bodies to perform their healthy and natural functions), washing hands (an acknowledgement of the cleanliness of the body), seeing natural wonders, experiencing anything new, eating, drinking, traveling, arriving, healing, mourning, celebrating -- everything. ...
There is no reason to think that the words written centuries ago are the only ones that can do the job. Rather, we can utter the words from our hearts and our minds that connect us with God and thank God and offer God our kindest thoughts -- or a deepest grievances.
When we sit around our Thanksgiving tables this year, there are so many things we can say to our family and friends -- let the words flow from your innermost self. Even in these very difficult times, there is yet so much to be thankful for. Pray from within.
-- Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan
of Temple Beth Israel in York Township
In my view, we've been so focused on materialism for so long, it's good to remember what's important: Our relationship with God and our time with family members.
I would have (those gathered) list out all that they have to be thankful for. Then, have the kids add to that list. It gets their whole mindset different, especially in a year when many folks are losing jobs or are worried about that.
-- The Rev. Scott Brown, pastor of Hanover Community Church in Heidelberg Township
Many Christian prayers begin with an address to God, a characterizing of God, followed by a short phrase or sentence explaining why that characterization is appropriate.
For example: "Creating God, who brought forth the night and the day, the oceans and rivers and the little creek that runs behind my house, the animals, those in our household and those in the wild, the food that nourishes us, and who brought forth us as well so we might be a blessing to one another and to others, on this day . . ."
And then from there, I would suggest that people look to the ordinary moments and experiences and people in their lives that have brought them joy, love, peace, fulfillment, challenge, wisdom, forgiveness and transformation.
They can also write a prayer that is participatory, if they intend to use it for Thanksgiving dinner: Have stops in the prayer where people can reflect silently or offer a spoken, extemporaneous response. Or have stops in the prayer where everyone responds in the same way after the leader gives a cue. Something like: "For this O God. . . . we give you thanks."
And finally, the prayer could be embodied. Take a walk outside and stop and slow down, look up to the sky and give thanks, to the grass, to the trees, to the flowers and give thanks, whatever you see spontaneously give thanks.
Or have everyone hold hands in a circle and look at each, really look into their eyes, and give thanks for something about that person, some gift that the person has given to you in the last year: a kind word, a good dinner, a listening ear, friendship, a wonderful hug.
-- The Rev. Marcy Nicholas
of Christ United Methodist Church in Yoe
Lincoln and thankfulness
Abraham Lincoln spoke of thanksgiving prayer when he authorized a national day of thankfulness in 1863:
"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
"Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. ..."
How often people pray
-- Nearly 6-in-10 adults in the U.S. say they pray at least once a day outside of religious services.
-- Frequency of prayer differs significantly by religious tradition, age, gender and income. Women are considerably more likely than men to say they pray daily, as are older adherents compared with their younger counterparts.
-- Nearly a third of American adults say they receive definite answers to specific prayer requests at least once a month.
Source: Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey
Obstacles to prayer
-- Distractions, no time
-- Fear of judgment
-- Not hearing an expected answer to your prayer
-- Not sure what to say or how to pray
Ways to pray better
-- Create a quiet place in your home for prayer.
-- Set aside a specific time to pray each day.
-- Go on a retreat.
-- Find and pray with a prayer buddy or group.
-- Attend a worship service.
-- Use prayer aids such as beads, spiritual readings, candles or specific rituals.