Unity of Hearts Thanksgiving in Pacific Palisades (Video)

By Sue Pascoe 

The Pacific Palisades Ministerial Association presented another inspiring interfaith Thanksgiving service on November 20 at the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple on Sunset. 

Set high on the hill, the temple offers an air of peacefulness that was evident from the beginning, especially for those who opted to park at the lake and climb the steps. In the complete darkness, street and house lights twinkled in the distance.

Brother Satyanada of the Self-Realization Fellowship said, “We welcome clergy. We welcome congregation and we welcome community.

“It’s been a tough year,” he told the more than 400 people gathered. “Through this fellowship together we share a lot in common, not only our community, but also in our hearts.”

From the Pacific Palisades Interfaith Thanksgiving service 2017. Photo courtesy of SRF

Rabbi Amy Bernstein of the Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation said that the clergy had decided to break from a traditional service because “It’s been a hard year.”

“This journey will be different,” she said. “We’ll dig deep into what it means to be present. We’re not only going to talk about things, we’re going to do them. This will be a meditative program. We don’t judge. We don’t blame.” 

Bernstein urged audience members that if their thoughts started to drift away, they should gently steer them back to the present.

“We’re going to shift gears into a contemplative practice,” she said, and explained that the word shalom, which translates as peace, actually comes from the Hebrew shalem, which means being complete, being whole. She led the community in a chant of shalom.


Brother Satyananda read from Psalms 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” He explained that every religion has a meditative and prayer aspect to it.

He then gave meditative instructions. “Relax the body and still the thoughts.” Everyone closed their eyes and listened to his directions about how to breath to calm the mind.

For the next 20 minutes, people were in a meditative state. Bishop Chris Eastland of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Methodist Minister Reverend Wayne Walters offered prayers during that time.

Calm, yet alert, people then listened as Presbyterian Reverend Grace Park told the inspirational story of Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Loukas Karrer of the Greek island of Zakynthos.

During World War II, Jews were being slaughtered in concentration camps. When the commander of the German army reached Zakynthos, he demanded that the Bishop and Mayor give him a list of names of all the Jews, so they could be deported to death camps. Instead, the two men hid 275 Jewish people.

From the Pacific Palisades Interfaith Thanksgiving service 2017. Photo courtesy of SRF

The next day they handed the commander a list. There were only two names on the list: the Bishop’s and the Mayor’s.

Susan Whitmore’s griefHaven, a nonprofit founded in 2002 after Whitmore’s daughter died at age 32 of a rare sinus cancer, was selected by the clergy to receive the service’s offering.

“There’s a lot of grief in the world,” Whitmore said. “People were shot down at a concert, shot down while in church. We grieve over the people who were innocently killed.”

She spoke about her grief in losing a child, and how there is an emotional, psychological and physical aspect to grief.

Whitmore remembers sobbing in bed, “Why, why, why?” and then hearing a little voice, “In time.”

“One night I decided I was done with God and I shouted, ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,” Whitmore said, but then an interesting thing happened. “It wasn’t God that came back in my life [he was always there], it was love.   

“It’s about the love—what we can do to help those suffering the worse pain possible,” she said.

That realization inspired Whitmore to start griefHaven, whose website now has more than a million visits a year. She produced “Portraits of Hope,” about parents speaking about their grief of losing a child. Now she’s working on a film about siblings and their grief after losing a brother or sister.

From the Pacific Palisades Interfaith Thanksgiving service 2017. Photo courtesy of SRF

Whitmore said that research has showed if you think about gratitude, something you are thankful for, it can change the brain. “We need to focus on what we have in life,” she said. “Before you go to bed tonight, think of one thing you’re grateful for and say it aloud.”

The ever-entertaining Monsignor Liam Kidney of Corpus Christi was tasked with the benediction.

“The clergy were talking about how long this benediction would take,” Kidney said, then joked, “Just kick back, take it easy. We’re not going anywhere this evening.”

He thanked everyone for coming and said they would know him and could say hello if they bumped into him at Ralphs or a local gas station. “Well, not a gas station in the Palisades, I couldn’t afford it—maybe at Costco.”

The monsignor recalled the father-in-law who told a relative, “If we’re going to meet in heaven, we may as well get along now.”

“There are no strangers here–we are all together,” Kidney said. “Grief is the price we pay for loving. Don’t let grief destroy; let love lift you up.”

An interfaith choir, directed by Victor Long, sang “Be Thou My Vision,” “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Now Thank We All Our God.” 

Clergy also participating in the multi-decade traditional service were Lutheran Church Pastor Kenneth Davis and St. Matthew’s Minister Bruce Freedman.

For more information, visit griefhaven.org

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