WHY THANXGRIEVING?— Ibrahim Baba Farajaje, of blessed memory, former Provost & spiritual ancestor to Starr King School for the Ministry
for years, i had a hard time conceptually giving thanks on a holiday when the major players in the holiday had been massacred and their lands had been invaded and occupied: whoa! how to give thanks for that, dude?! i mean, just sit with that for a moment: if you look at it from that perspective, other than commemorating it so that no one would forget what had happened, would you really want to celebrate that day? […] Part of my main purpose in writing about WHY THANXGRIEVING? is that doing this is part of my assignment in the world to REMEMBER THE “FORGOTTEN”, especially those who lost their lives in the HIV pandemic.”
Nearly a month out from Thanksgiving, my words have been slow to come, but no less necessary to be written and shared. Baya Akomolafe, Nigerian poet, philosopher, psychologist, and professor, shares an African saying with his audiences: “The times are urgent, let us slow down.” I’m embracing the slow path, and hope you will join me here.
Ibrahim Baba’s words above are part of a longer piece where ze explores the Thansgrieving ritual ze adopted after a friend who had hosted their community’s epic queer Friendsgiving celebration lost his life to AIDS just before the holiday. The holiday season can be a time of deep grief for many of us, remembering those who are no longer here to celebrate with us, or being unable to go home to our family of origin because of ruptures there. This year, we also grieve the ways we are used to celebrating that are not safe right now because of the global pandemic.
As Thanksgiving came and passed, I felt deeply the grief that came with the holiday. Just weeks before, the Southern Oregon UU Partnership community learned from Monica YellowOwl about the experience of land seizure and genocide that the Klamath, Yahooskin, and Modoc peoples, on whose lands UUFKC makes its home, have endured. Our training brought home the reality of what we celebrate at Thanksgiving: indigenous genocide at the hands of my ancestors. This Thanksgiving, I also felt the grief of watching as the media portrayed the white murderer of a young black man in Ashland as a loving father fallen on tough times, sharing the murderer’s GoFundMe page before any information on the victim or ways to support his family. (I won’t link to those news articles, but you can learn more about this incident from the perspective of local black activists HERE.) I felt grief this year as I confronted these layers of the meaning of whiteness in Southern Oregon.
But I didn’t honor Thanksgrieving. Instead, I tried to push the grief away and press on. What right do I have to take time to feel the pain of systems of oppression that I benefit from? I asked myself. But that wasn’t helpful, and it wasn’t possible to avoid the grief. My better self knows this, and I’ve even preached it. Our service in October, drawing from Resmaa Menakem’s text My Grandmother’s Hands reminds us to use the tools of settling our body to stay with even the hard feeling, so that our pain can be metabolized instead of living inside of our bodies as trauma. I’ve included a video of that worship service below, in case you need the reminder too.
It was about a week after Thanksgiving when I realized I had no choice but to pause and feel the grief. And as I wept, I remembered a promise I made to you in September in the covenant I shared at my first worship service as your intern minister: I promise to serve as a conduit through which the Spirit of Life may flow into our midst. To fully live into that promise, I had to stop and feel the grief. Grief flows from the Spirit of Life in the face of life made disposable, life desecrated, love nowhere to be found. Sometimes, the Spirit moves us to grieve. So even if you’re celebrating late like me, I encourage you to celebrate Thanksgrieving this holiday season by allowing yourself time and space to feel the grief so many of us are holding right now for so many reasons.