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A Message of Thanksgiving from Chautauqua

Like many of you, I look forward tomorrow to gathering around a table with loved ones — for me at the President’s Cottage at Chautauqua — to share and partake in a most cherished tradition. At many Thanksgiving gatherings it is customary to begin the meal with a brief prayer or blessing, to “say grace,” as we put it at my table. It is a simple act, but one that is so profound: an expression of thanks for a nourishing meal, for those who prepared and share in it, and any number of the countless blessings in our lives.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately, and not just in the Thanksgiving context. It’s the reason we have a whole week devoted to it in 2019. The description for that theme begins: “Be it emotional, physical or spiritual, grace takes many forms. It exists in the way we treat one another, the way in which we move through the world, and the way in which we use our gifts, our grace, to lift up others.”

For those of us who are “plugged in” nearly all our waking hours, inundated by our social feeds and media diets, it can be easy to convince ourselves that our world is sorely lacking in grace. I don’t think that’s true, thankfully: I encounter grace every day, in moments small and big, and often in the context of my work at Chautauqua. Grace is the incredible dedication I so admire in my colleagues on the Institution staff and on our volunteer boards. Grace is the kind words of thanks and encouragement — or even gentle admonishment — I hear in my interactions with our cherished Chautauqua community members. Grace is the fluid movement of dancers on a stage, the engaging delivery of carefully crafted words, the arc of a well-hit tee shot. Grace is my dear friend and colleague Bishop Gene Robinson answering the call to lay Matthew Shepard to rest.

In these instances and so many others, grace is present, countering those forces that work to despair or divide us. I’m so thankful that Chautauqua is a place and idea that actively cultivates grace, and that you are with us in this effort to carry that grace into the wider world. It is my hope for you that this holiday allows you time — if just that quiet moment before your meal — to reflect on how grace manifests itself in your life, in whatever forms it takes.

May your Thanksgiving be alive with merriment, and this new holiday season filled with reminders of the blessings in your life.


All my best,

Michael E. Hill

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