Tuesday, November 26, 2013


On this rainy cold day in New Iberia, Louisiana, just a few days before Thanksgiving, I sit at my window overlooking the patio with the fat chiminea on it and the backyard strewn with wet leaves and think about blessings—the warmth of central heat and a healthy breakfast reminding me of all good gifts available in this age of post modernity.

Several books about blessings that help me with expressing thanks for plenitude and certainly elevate my evocations of thankfulness lie on the dining room table. One of them is a volume entitled To Bless the Space Between Us by John O'Donohue, an Irishman whose work encompasses blessings for getting married, having children, eating bountiful meals, and other ordinary events. In the book, O'Donohue explains that blessings of things, people, and events is a way of life and can help transform the world. The volume was given to me at Christmas three years ago by my friend, Isabel Anders of Sewanee, who also writes books about blessings, several of which are: Simple Blessings for Sacred Moments, A Book of Blessings for Working Mothers, The Lord's Blessings, and Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples.  

A newer book on the dining table is a compendium entitled Bless This Food, which contains ancient and contemporary graces from around the world—prayers from Native Americans, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sufis, Jews, Unitarians and others of various faiths. As the author, Adrian Butash, says: "food is the thanks-giving link and universal form of expression for gratitude to the Almighty."

In the introduction to his book, Butash writes briefly about certain cultures and customs centering around blessings and hospitality, and I was fascinated with the section about Chinese dining customs. He describes the Chinese custom of sending dinner invitations in a red envelope—red being the color of festivity—and the spontaneous seating arrangements so that no person is left standing while another person is seated. After the guests finish the meal, the host escorts them all the way to the door because the Chinese believe that "if you escort a man at all, escort him all the way." Included in this notation about Chinese dining is a reference to a Chinese poem, "Inviting Guests," which dates back to AD 273 and gives readers a look at ancient Chinese hospitality that reflects the pleasure of sharing and enjoying life through the "entertainment of guests with warmth and goodwill."

A P.S. to Butash's explication of Chinese blessings that use the vehicle of poetry is the fact that the Chinese express love in their blessings, dealing not with love as we envision it, but with friendship because Chinese poetry is influenced by the Three Teachings of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism: the importance of being unselfish, loyal, and courteous. When I read this passage, I thought of one of Isabel's books entitled The Faces of Friendship in which she speaks of friendships (which aren't confined to the Chinese culture): "A friend is one whose essential beingness, whose presence in the world, has touched ours at some point. And from such points of touching we measure our time, our very lives before and after..."

So, my thanksgivings are not just food blessings but include celebrations of friendship as I think of all the friends who have, as the Chinese say, been "loyal, unselfish, and courteous" to me. However, I'm not sending out any invitations in red envelopes a la Chinese style—Thanksgiving dinner will be a la American style (with some inclusions of Cajun fare) but I do hope to entertain my "guests with warmth and goodwill."
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