If this Thanksgiving finds you feeling sad and upset by how Covid-19 is impacting our lives this holiday season, watch a recording of the annual Pacific Palisades Interfaith Thanksgiving service that was celebrated on Monday night. This uplifting service, which included song, prayer and meditation, was about 50 minutes and can be viewed on YouTube Interfaith Service.
Our Pacific Palisades clergy decide on a theme every year (2020 was “Prayer”) and then offer different messages and music that celebrate the season. They also select a nonprofit to support, and once again chose the Westside Food Bank.
This year’s service, which rotates to different locations, was hosted by Kehillat Israel. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben served as the spiritual “emcee.”
“Years ago, one of the kids in our religious school said that the definition of a Rabbi is someone who speaks to God through a microphone,” Carr Reuben said. “If you ask a kid today, he might say a minister or Rabbi speaks to God through Zoom.”
Carr Reuben welcomed everyone to “Share this profound moment of gratitude together with all of us.” He introduced Corpus Christi Monsignor Liam Kidney, noting “There is a traditional Irish prayer that says, “May your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want.”
Kidney led the opening prayer and observed that with Thanksgiving approaching as Covid-19 ravages the country, it might seem a stretch to be thankful. But, he said, we have been given “opportunities to grow and opportunities to be thankful for things we had taken for granted, like each other, like quiet, like not being so busy.”
Kidney shared a meditation: “Every part of this earth is sacred to us people. Every pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow and humming insect, all holy in the memory of people. We are the earth and it is part of us. . . . The earth does not belong to us, we belong to earth. The earth is our mother. All things are connected. . .
“Preserve the land and the rivers for your children’s children and love it as we have loved it,” he said. “Let us never forget we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and we thank them and remember them. Amen.”
When Carr Reuben introduced Presbyterian Church Pastor Dr. Grace Park, he said “Enjoy the little things because you may someday look back and find they are the big things.”
“I echo Father Kidney’s sentiments that this has been a year and full of challenges for all of us,” Park said. “We can be thankful for so many things in our life. . .and the unexpected blessings, such as friendship, the acts of love we have countered and, patience and wisdom to see beyond what we’re in right now.”
She introduced the Palisades Presbyterian Chancel Choir, who sang “The Call of Wisdom,” under the direction of Jaco Wong.
“I am here, I am with you,” they sang. “I have called: Do you hear me?” It was absolutely reassuring to hear such a lovely blending of voices after so many months of silence.
“Beautiful,” Carr Reuben said.
He then noted that a minister friend had told him a story about some recent refugees. There was a Vietnamese child in his church who was just learning English. After the service, the child ran up to the minister and said, “Happy Thanksliving, pastor!”
“I thought that’s perfect,” Carr Reuben said. “Happy Thanksliving. What a challenge this year to experience Thanksgiving with our pandemic lives and more and more people being challenged by this deadly disease.”
“And yet, with all the challenges with social distancing, what I’ve found is that there’s more physical distancing but also more social togetherness than ever before,” the Rabbi said. “Witness this service: We have hundreds of people participating from wherever; you don’t have to be here sitting in our beautiful sanctuary.”
It’s Carr Reuben’s opinion that the most powerful sentence in the Bible is in Deuteronomy 30, where God says: “I set before you good and evil, life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life.”
He said, “I’ve always been struck by what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say I set before you good or evil or life or death or blessing or curse, because you get it all. The great challenge of our lives is to remember which are the blessings and which are the curses. I think our real challenge in life is to find the blessings in the curses.
“The best message is to search for the blessings no matter how small in our everyday lives. Every day should be a blessing treasure hunt.”
Carr Reuben’s comrade, Cantor Chayim Frenkel, sang “Halleluyah” from Psalm 150—one of the most joyous celebrations of the word, with backgrounds and choruses mixed in the recording.
The Rabbi then introduced Brother Ritananda from the Self-Realization Fellowship, and noted that a 13th-century Sufi mystic wrote, “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will warm every corner of your life.”
Brother Ritananda said, “When it was decided that the theme would be prayer, I thought an affirmation would be a wonderful opportunity to lead a type of prayer.”
He explained that an affirmation is a statement of truth that we repeat with deep faith, conviction and concentration, again and again. He then led the virtual audience in an affirmation: “As our thoughts and words are the seeds, that will bring forth our harvest of the future. I will begin today to fill my mind with thoughts of peace, prosperity and gratitude. Amen.”
Dr. Wayne Walters, the Community United Methodist Church pastor, introduced the church’s music director, Ross Chitwood, who has one of the most incredible voices in Pacific Palisades.
He sang “Thankful.” (The song starts “Somedays, we forget to look around us – Somedays, we can’t see the joy that surrounds us – So caught up inside ourselves – We take when we should give – So for tonight we pray for – What we know can be . . . It’s up to us to be the change. There’s so much to be thankful for.”)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Bishop Chris Eastland told a parable about painting the family’s home when they first moved in, which made it look great, but how they had neglected to see about the inner workings and gradually they discovered the pipes were corroded, the wires frayed and the roof was leaking.
“We treated the problems as an annoyance,” Eastland said, “but intuitively, we knew we shouldn’t ignore them, yet we were so busy.
“Then the consequences of our inaction became too significant to ignore any longer,” he said, and he reminded everyone that like a well-lived house, our neighborhoods consist of many individuals. And those people and their lives, just like the inner workings of a house, need to be examined, too.
“We need to look more deeply into the layer of humanity, and not just ‘paint the walls,’ Eastland said. “Like the beams and wires in our house, these are hidden from our view. Because we’re busy it’s easy to ignore the growing need to take curative action.”
On behalf of the clergy, he urged people to make a contribution to the Westside Food Bank.
“My brothers and sisters, may God bless all of you and may God bless and multiply the offering that we collect tonight so that many more of our sisters and brothers in need have greater joy and peace this season,” Eastland said.
Lutheran pastors Joe and Cyndi Ramirez sang “Good Good Father,” an inspiring duet that has these lyrics: “You’re a good father, you’re a good father. It’s who you are. It’s who I am.”
Carr Reuben quoted Sophocles when he introduced St. Matthew Episcopal Church Pastor Bruce Freeman: “One must wait to see how splendid the day has been.”
Freeman gave the closing prayer, which he said he says daily: “Almighty God, source of all mercies, we your servants, give you humble thanks. . ..”
He then introduced St. Matthew’s organist Dr. Haesung Park, who masterfully played “All Creatures of Our God and King” in the church sanctuary.
Carr Reuben concluded the service by saying, “In his Thanksgiving message, President John F. Kennedy wrote that as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
To donate to the Westside Food Bank, visit: ourki.org/foodbank or wsfb.org.