In Japan, a largely secular but homogeneous society, there is a practice to still one’s self before a meal. Everyone pauses before digging in, and they say one word. “Itadakimasu.” This verb is in honorific form and is used to address a person of higher status than one’s self. It means plainly “I humbly receive”. The subject of “what” is received is not explicitly named, but the context of its use is when family and friends are gathered around a table for a meal. The person to whom this is said is also not explicitly stated and could refer to the person who prepared the meal, but the reverence surrounding this ritual suggests that it is addressed to Kami-Sama (God).
Twenty-seven years ago I was a student in Osaka Japan. Some of the American students and I decided to travel to Tokyo over a short break during the last week of November. On the night before what was Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., we committed ourselves to finding a place where a traditional Thanksgiving dinner was to be served. That Thursday morning we awoke to a cold rain and started calling all of the fancy international hotels in search of our dinner. By mid afternoon, however, we were convinced that we would have to miss the turkey, stuffing, and yams. Instead, we went reluctantly to an American theme restaurant and ordered chicken dishes from a prefixed menu. Once at the table, however, our somber mood began to melt away once we realized that we had what we were looking for all along. We paused and said “Itadakimasu,” using the language of our host country to convey our thanks to God. We had received from God the gift of togetherness, warmth, and food. It wasn’t until we were still that we truly began to realize the blessing we had in that day.
Often we overlook God’s blessings in our life because we have our hearts set on a dream or ideal that seems unattainable. “If I only had this or that- or if only things would go this way or that way.” Perhaps it is time to listen to God’s call to be still and to echo a word of thanks for what we do have.
Gathering regularly for worship helps to develop the ability to still oneself. As we gather together around God’s table and humbly receive the sacred meal of Holy Communion each week our eyes are opened to the love of God. That special love radiates gentle warmth and conveys to us a genuine sense of belonging that is the source of inner and outer peace.
During this season of Thanksgiving I pray that we can pause often in the midst of the storms of life to honor God and thank the almighty for all of the blessings we have and continue to receive.