Thanksgiving is a nostalgic time for most of us. While I don’t need an excuse to be nostalgic about New England, a thought occurred to me the other day about a favorite spot along the coast north of Boston.
In the town of Gloucester, there is a very famous statue of a sailor at the wheel of a ship. If you haven’t been to Gloucester, you’ve probably seen a picture of the statue. We would visit Gloucester once during the summer and that statue was always the landmark that I looked for to know we had arrived in this rather unique town. I was always intrigued by the statue and the inscription on the base; “Those that go down to the sea in ships”.
The statue is called the Fisherman’s Memorial and stands as a tribute to those from Gloucester who died in the course of their work. It is a sad place indeed.
But, it is interesting to note that the inscription was taken out of context and is really inappropriate for a memorial.
The phrase; “Those that go down to the sea in ships” is taken from Psalm 107. But, that psalm is in fact a psalm of thanksgiving as it mentions several groups of people who faced danger and were saved after crying out to God. The sailors mentioned in the psalm faced a raging storm but were saved as were those lost in the desert and those who were imprisoned.
Psalm 107 is an important psalm in our tradition even though it is not used as part of the standard service. The psalm inspired the concept of the “gomel blessing” which is recited by a person who has survived a difficult experience: an illness, a long journey, imprisonment and the like. The situations in which the blessing is called for are derived from the psalm. Saying the gomel blessing can be extremely meaningful for one who feels gratitude for a return to safety or to health.
But, a hasidic rabbi pointed out once that if we thank God for saving us from the storm or helping us to survive an illness, we should also thank God for the days that there were no storms and days on which we healthy. Gratitude should come not only when we survive a difficult situation but when we are in a good place.
So, yesterday during services, I led all the congregation in a gomel blessing thanking God for the good that we have in our lives. I wouldn’t do it every week but I think we are going to make it an annual tradition in the congregation. It feels good to express thanks for that which we have and what better time to do it than Thanksgiving weekend.
Enjoy the rest of the weekend and may we always find ways to express gratitude for that which we have.