Setting the Table with Gratitude

This blog post was written in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, it remains relevant and for that reason, we’ve chosen to keep it in its original form.

The past few months of life during the COVID-19 pandemic have been a journey, amirite? It feels like life as we know it has come and gone — we’ve been forced to reckon with the way we exist in the world, and not only has the resilience of our communities been tested but the resilience of our individual selves as well. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a STRUGGLE.

As someone who typically bases their entire Shabbat practice on rituals surrounding gratitude, I’ve found that taking the time to create moments of reflection around gratitude (for myself and for others) hasn’t come as naturally. Being that I’m a licensed and board-certified Art Therapist, you’d think that would be automatic, right? Not exactly. 

When times are really, really tough, the ease of which we exist “normally” goes out the window — the brain can go into survival mode, and the chemicals in the brain (called neurotransmitters) create a “trauma response”, even as a reaction to regular, day-to-day, mundane tasks.

If you’ve been feeling out of whack and not yourself, consider the possibility that your body + brain are on auto-pilot or in survival mode. It can be hard to make time for yourself and/or Shabbat, especially when you’re in survival mode, and that is a-ok! It is a normal reaction to an abnormal circumstance.

After working for OneTable for nearly three years, I’ve come to realize that Shabbat doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be stressful. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming to prepare. But it should be intentional. What does that even mean? In Judaism, the practice of intention is called kavanah, and it’s all about meaning-making. It’s about thinking before your dinner about how you want to feel, and how you want your guests to feel. What kind of space are you trying to create? How can your decor and food and conversation all contribute to that space? For me, gratitude is IT. 

In these moments of uncertainty, framing your Shabbat practice in gratitude can not only help give you those warm + fuzzies in the moment, but there’s evidence to suggest that a practice of gratitude can rewire your brain and provide long term benefits. It’s my hope that these resources will empower you to create moments of gratitude for yourself in moments of solitude, for your guests in moments of community, and will give you permission to explore Shabbat as a means of self-care. 

Wishing you many restorative Shabbat moments ahead,

Lianne from OneTable, M.A. LCAT, ATR-BC

Setting the Table With Gratitude: A Guide

Gratitude-filled Shabbat rituals, conversation starters & more. 

With gratitude (!) to Natalie Bergner, Tali Burger, and Lianne Sufrin for their work on this beautiful guide.

Getting Creative + Therapeutic on Friday Night

Whether you’re Shabbating with a group of new friends or old friends, creating together can be magical and help frame the dinner from beginning to end. If you’re aiming for more of a Shabbat vibe in solitude, these can be completed individually, too. Regardless of with who or what you create, taking time to decompress with art making is good for you!

Worry/Gratitude Stones

Hold your Shabbat moments close to you; using a smooth pebble, collage materials and/or paint markers, create a representation of that impactful moment. Carry it with you during the week, use it as a paperweight/napkin holder, or create individual stones with shared moments as “place cards” for your guests, with an extra for them to create of their own. 

Letter Writing

Write a letter (to send or not) to someone who made an impact on your life, whether it was a grocery clerk who went out of their way to help, a fleeting moment between you and a stranger, or that teacher who never gave up on your struggles in Math class.

Gratitude Journal

There are endless ways to journal about gratitude, but here are a few to get you started:

Gratitude Jar 

Create using a recycled mason jar with your choice of materials. Make a “stained glass” jar using tissue paper and ModPodge (or glue + water), or get trendy using hot glue + gemstones, paint, stickers or washi tape, sharpies or glitter glue. The opportunities are truly endless. 

Once your jar is dry, set it in a place that you’ll see frequently: on the kitchen counter, on the dinner table, or wherever you’re hosting your guests. Invite your guests to create their own to bring, or ask them to help you fill the jar with notes of gratitude each week. If you’d rather collect moments of gratitude every day throughout the month, you can plan to dive in to read on a certain date solo. If you’re feeling motivated, adding a note of gratitude each day will leave you with 365 memories to reflect upon at the close of each year. 

Collaborative Gratitude Tree Centerpiece

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to share moments of gratitude with your guests at the dinner table, this centerpiece is perfect inspo.

Gratitude Scrapbook (or Collage)

Share your theme of gratitude in advance, and ask your guests to bring some of their fave printed photos to create individual pages for a Gratitude scrapbook of their own, or an individual collage they can take home with them. Old magazines are the best for creating, so hang on to them! 

Roses and Thorns

Each person is asked to take three pieces of paper, and write down a “rose” (a highlight of the week/moment of gratitude/etc), a “bud” (something in progress/something they’re excited about in the future), and a “thorn” (a frustration, setback, worst part of their week, etc). 

First, folks can share their thorn (as they feel comfortable) and when they’ve finished sharing, they are encouraged to rip it up and throw it away as a symbol/action of leaving it behind and starting fresh for Shabbat. Depending on your location/logistics, it can be a really nice experience to burn it or throw it into a fire. After, guests can share their “rose” and their “bud” as a way to look towards the new week with gratitude.

Lianne is a Creative Arts Therapist, foodie, traveler, and lover of all things Pittsburgh who believes in the power of connecting around the dinner table.

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