America’s spiritual secular holiday

Astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth in March after setting the record for the longest continuous time spent in outer space. Kelly manned the International Space Station for 340 days, a feat that took a toll on him physically and psychologically.

Coming down to Earth again could have been a coming down to earth experience. It could have thrown him right back into the earthbound perspective that plagues us all too often. But he learned some things from far away, looking back on that small blue planet we all call home.

“I think it makes you more of an environmentalist, looking at the planet. I think it makes you more of a … humanist, you know, looking out at seven and a half billion people on Earth, no political borders.

“Personally, I think it’s more of an impact on how this overall experience has changed me, and I think for the better. When we spend time away from Earth and have this orbital perspective, I think it makes us more empathetic. It was a real privilege to do this and have this experience.”

So, do you have to leave Earth to have such an experience that deepens your empathy for creation and creatures? Surely, this is the proper role of religion. It calls us to see things from above, from above the fray of frayed relationships, from above the din of clamorous voices that divide us.

A truly spiritual perspective is unifying. It teaches us to see the world as our one common home that must be treasured for its wildness and domesticated with care. It teaches us to see our neighbor as if in a mirror, reflecting our same hopes and fears, needs and desires. It teaches us that, as the witty Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Thanksgiving is America’s spiritual secular holiday. It can be despoiled by gluttony, distracted by football and desecrated by claims of blessing that neglect the needy. Family tensions can heighten. Nationalism can parade as patriotism. Any good thing can go bad.

Or not. Thanksgiving can give us pause for a higher perspective. It can challenge us to a more heavenly view of things. Here are some questions to ask to elevate our souls:

How can we better cherish those who share turkey with us, even if they disappoint us and disagree with us? Does God really care more for one nation than another? Why do we insist on carving up our planet the way we do, both literally by pillaging it for profit and figuratively by gerrymandering advantage for some over others? Must grievances go on forever, or might we pave a path of peace by confession of sin and forgiveness for all?

Someone will say the blessing this year at your Thanksgiving table. As we bow our heads and quiet our hearts, let’s make it a blessing all can share in, rather than a blessing for us getting our share.