What was your reaction when you saw the title of this service? Gratitude Sunday.
Some among us may have thought “how wonderful!” – overjoyed at yet another opportunity to express the gratitude that is constantly flowing from their hearts and their very being.
Those people we call saints. To them, expressing constant gratitude is as natural and automatic as breathing.
For the rest of us, gratitude is not so simple.
We were told as children to say “thank you.” We knew we had to. Thank granny for the scratchy jumper she gave you when you wanted a toy…
When life gets stressful – when we are running around with too much to do and too many deadlines, “thank you” may not be the first thing that comes to mind.
When the builders upstairs are drilling all day or our neighbours never turn off their music or their loud television, “thank you” may not be the first thing that comes to mind.
When we wake up with pain and the realisation that the dancing we were just doing was only a dream and that our hip or leg or knee or heart may never allow that to be real again, “thank you” may not be the first thing that comes to mind.
When we feel small in ourselves and need the elevation that appreciation can bring – when we feel so far down that it looks attractive to pull someone into the hole with us – “thank you” may not be the first thing that comes to mind.
Our readings from Jane Kenyon and Susan Glassmeyer suggest a way of being where gratitude is a constant – despite everything that the world throws our way. Jane Kenyon wrote “It could have been otherwise” in 1993 after learning of her husband’s cancer diagnosis. Ironically, it was Kenyon who passed away less than two years later – of an aggressive form of leukemia.
Let’s be clear: Kenyon was not expressing gratitude for cancer. This is not about being grateful for the bad things that come our way, but about finding the wonderful things – the blessings – amid the dross and then feeling and expressing joyful thanks for those.
One more thing, grateful is not the same as ‘grateful to.’ You need not be a theist to be grateful. Gratitude is a feeling that may go out to a person, to the divine, or to the universe, but it need not have an object. Gratitude is an uprising of appreciation within.
Can you be grateful in the face of tragedy? Can you be grateful in the face of defeat? Should you?
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and author says this:
“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more.”
Can there be any doubt that he is right? If we are grateful for whatever comes, we will be happy. Not only that, we will be a delight to be with, and because of that, more good things will inevitably come our way. When we are grateful, we begin a whole cycle of events that lead inevitably toward more happiness for us and everyone around us.
But I don’t feel grateful today, we reply. I feel cranky. I feel disappointed. I feel mistreated. And, you know what? I probably won’t feel grateful tomorrow. What then?
Gratitude is a choice we make. Every day, we have the opportunity to decide what kind of person we want to be. It may be harder for some of us to feel grateful than for others. It could be our genes or our life stories – but it is possible for all of us to be grateful people. It is a matter of practice, of effort, of discipline.
Rather than leave it at that, I would like to invite you into a time of meditation – a time where we can practice a bit of gratitude together.
Sit comfortably in your seat – perhaps being grateful at this very moment for those nice firm pew cushions.
Gently urge yourself to let go of the worrying and the planning that you brought with you. Let go of any anger and frustration you have been feeling.
Let go of the thoughts that have been racing while you’ve been listening. The thoughts of disagreement, the thoughts of inadequacy, the thoughts about being unable.
Begin to create a peaceful open place in your mind and heart. As thoughts intrude to intrude on that space, greet them in your mind and gently put them aside to be dealt with later.
Take a moment to let your muscles relax and your mind to calm.
In your mind’s eye now, begin to review your day. You woke up this morning. Were you sleeping on the street or in a building? Were you on the floor or in a bed? Take a moment to be thankful for the circumstance of your waking and arising this morning. Think of every detail you can recall of your waking and rising. For each element that – in Kenyon’s words – could have been otherwise, simply say a silent “thank you.”
Do you have running water? Could you wash indoors? These things are almost miraculous? Indoor plumbing is a relatively recent invention. Imagine the pipes that move water to and from your home. Imagine all the other wonders that impacted on your preparations this morning. Imagine and silently say “thank you.”
Did you have breakfast? Tea? Coffee? Tea and coffee come from vast distances to get to us. Take a moment now to be thankful for what you ate and drank today.
One of the ways that we can support one another in our own spiritual journeys is by example. It is of value to each of us to be exposed to the gratitude of others.
I invite you now to share aloud some of the gratitudes of your life. They may be large or small. They may have appeared as joys to begin with or the blessings may have only emerged in the fullness of time. Please stand as you are able when speaking, so that we won’t speak over each other. You may speak more than once, but please mention only one gratitude each time and please keep your contributions very brief.
As you feel moved to do so, I invite you now to rise and share a gratitude.
May these expressions of gratitude inspire each of us toward a greater appreciation of all of life’s gifts. May we grow in gratitude and in its fruits – happiness, love, and peace.