The Beloved-ness of Gratitude – Marsha Thrall, UUCSS Interimn Director of Religious Education
Good morning, Beloveds. I would like to start out my talk this morning by first expressing gratitude. Much love, effort, and perseverance was required to plan this morning’s service – especially since most of it was planned during my time of study leave. Thank you, to Michael Holmes and Phyllis Stanley for their carefully thought out music selections. Thanks to our worship committee, here at UUCSS for their help and guidance during the worship preparation process. Jake Ryder and the technical team for putting all of the pieces of the Sunday worship puzzle together, your knowledge and expertise is deeply appreciated. Thank you to the Children’s and Youth Religious Education committee for their creativity and commitment. Next, I owe Erica Anderson much gratitude for taking charge of the planning process for this service. And last, but never least, our children and youth for their enthusiastic contributions to this worship service – young ones, I am so impressed by your hard work, and am honored to serve you.
I cannot speak for every person, but I can speak for myself and say that finding space for gratitude, during this complex and turbulent time that the year 2020 has become isn’t always easy. In fact, most days, being grateful within this apocalyptic time is something that slides out of my peripheral vision on a daily basis. As if living in a hyper connected world during a time of public health crisis and pandemic weren’t enough, each day brings a new challenge; some challenges are as seemingly dire as the pandemic itself, while others are actually kind of comical in their tragic kind of way (whatever happened to “Murder Hornets”, by the way?). And as each new challenge presents itself, it becomes increasingly clear that spiritual practice is a critical component of working towards surviving during this complicated moment in time.
Again, speaking from my own experience, I spent much of my adult life not recognizing that expressing gratitude is itself a spiritual practice. In the time that I like to refer to as the “Pre-Seminary Era” or PSE time, gratitude was an act of obligation. Saying “thank you”, the symbol of gratitude to those bent towards conventional morality was, at best, an action, not a practice. Don’t get me wrong, my thanks were always genuine; but being genuine isn’t always the same as embodying an ethic of gratitude.
But within the years that have unfolded in PSE time, being grateful has transcended the “things” and mechanics of person to person exchange and have evolved into an embodied experience of appreciation for all things Beloved within the Universe. And as difficult as it is, sometimes, this appreciation, this practice of gratitude has come to include not simply the things and creation that seem good, but also, as I mature, my gratitude practice has come to include being grateful even for pain and struggle. Gratitude as a spiritual practice, can be complicated.
In his book, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, Catholic Priest, pastoral and practical theologian Henri Nouwen writes:
To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives-the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections-that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift… to be grateful for.
Some might hear Nouwen’s words and think “easier said than done, Hank.” And despite my ability to admit the complicated nature of my personal spiritual practices of gratitude, I can also understand the reaction that questions the genuine ability to find space for gratitude in pain, or crisis, or tragedy. Finding space for gratitude in the midst of suffering is difficult, if not, honestly, often impossible. But, perhaps, the honest take-away from contemplating a spiritual practice of gratitude is to understand that within our UU community, the opportunity to cultivate meaningful relationships exists; and these relationships can nurture us, and hold us, and comfort us, while we grapple with the complicated nature of Gratitude. And this space of community is, itself, something Beloved to be grateful for.
Early in today’s service, Gabriel Pinkard read the story Gracias-Thanks to our group. In his reading, Gabriel reminded us that Gratitude is universal. And the take-away from this can be, that yes, our current pandemic is universal, but as even as the world is entangled within this Public Health crisis, we are also, on a small, communal scale, experiencing Beloved spaces of beauty. Whether in the presence of a small, red ladybug, chocolate syrup that is as rich and thick as mud, bees that don’t sting, trees that are green, or the enveloping comfort of well-worn pajamas, the space for Gratitude can bring moments of beauty within the chaos. And that is a Beloved blessing.