Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn to one of the foundations of our faith – gratitude.
We listen to 1 Thessalonians 5:13b-18 read by Claire Stiles, a scripture lesson that speaks to new believers of the basics of faith including gratitude.
Scripture 1 Thessalonians 5:13b-18
Live in peace with each other.
We urge you, sisters and brothers, to warn the idlers, cheer up the faint-hearted, support the weak and be patient with everyone. Make sure that no one repays one evil with another. Always seek what is good for each other – and for all people.
Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Reflection from Kim
I am listening to a beautiful novel by Louise Erdrich. I so appreciate her stories set among the indigenous peoples of this land. In The Game of Silence it seems like one character or another is regularly taking out a pouch and sprinkling a pinch of tobacco. When a bear, needed for food, is killed, tobacco is sprinkled. When an animal provides guidance, tobacco is sprinkled. When a tree gives its branches for the making of a dwelling, tobacco is sprinkled. Repeatedly during the course of every day life, tobacco is sprinkled. It’s not just on a special occasion or at a ceremony. Day in and day out, tobacco is sprinkled as an offering of gratitude for what has been provided.
In every religion and culture there are rituals and provisions for the expression of gratitude. And of course we have this in Christianity. The Psalms are full of expressions of thanksgiving to God. Sacrifices were made out of gratitude. Jesus teaches about gratitude like the story of the 10 lepers who are healed but only one returns thanks. And there are the verses we listened to this morning from the apostle Paul about giving thanks in all circumstances. The Bible is filled with wisdom about gratitude.
There appears to be a universal human need to express gratitude. I don’t think it is because we need to be thanked. I think it is because we need to be thankful. The Psalms don’t thank God up and down and sideways because the God figure needs to be fed gratitude. It is because the people need to express gratitude. In the New Testament we are even told not to expect any thanks for the good we do. It’s not about being thanked. It’s about thanking. Showing gratitude. Because to be whole and healthy and thrive as a human creature, we have a fundamental need to express gratitude.
Gratitude is a reminder that we are constantly benefitting and receiving in ways that are completely outside of our control. We are beneficiaries of boundless generosity and goodness that we have no influence over. Our lives are sustained by thousands of other people whom we never see or know. And we are alive thanks to forces of nature that we did not design and do not control.
To practice gratitude is to realize how gifted we are. It is to acknowledge our dependence and interdependence.
Gratitude is good for us. Gratitude contributes to a sense of well-being. We realize how much we have and how we are continuously benefiting from the efforts of other people and from the world around us. We don’t have to do it all on our own. We can’t. I am trying to thank people more, whenever I can, not for their sake, but to remind myself how I am continuously dependent upon and benefitting from others. Gratitude engenders a sense of peace and security. We realize that there are people who are helping us and who will help us. We are not alone. Gratitude fosters generosity. When we pay attention to what we are being given we are freed to give. We see that there is enough for all. Gratitude gives us a sense of solidarity not only with other human beings but also with nature that is sustaining all of life. Gratitude is self care. It nourishes us.
Now, I want to shift gears for a moment. Gratitude seems so simple and straight forward. We should be reaping the benefits of gratitude day in and day out. We should have hearts brimming with thanks. It seems so easy. But there are forces working against gratitude.
We have an economic system that is based on creating needs, wants, and desires. So that we spend more money. So that business flourishes. So that people have jobs and get paid. So that they can buy the things that they have been conditioned to want. Its a self reinforcing cycle.
To keep this cycle spinning involves creating the impression of scarcity. There isn’t enough so you have to get yours. And this involves competition. So we get tied into competing with each other for what are portrayed as necessary scarce resources, supplies, and commodities.
To create these needs, wants, and desires, we are messaged that we are wanting. We are not enough. We don’t have enough. We are lacking. Our hair is not silky enough. So we need a new shampoo. We are not fit enough so we need a new gym membership. We are not comfortable enough so we need a new car. We are not thin enough so we need an expensive weight loss system. Our relationships are not good enough so we need this product or this service or this experience to make them better. Disney, anyone? We are told that we aren’t good enough and we don’t have enough. There is something newer, better, faster, and flashier that will make us ok. So our economic system functions by creating needs and wants in us so that we will spend our money on goods and services. So that other people can make money. And so that we need to make money so that we can spend more on the things that we are made to believe will make our lives better. It is a rat race.
And this cultivation of neediness suppresses the impulse toward gratitude. We are taught to see what we don’t have, and should want, rather than all that we do have. And this messaging is ubiquitous – it follows us on line, on buses, on our social media, on our phones, on billboards, on the TV, in print media, in ads on school bulletin boards. EVERYWHERE. Our society is masterful at creating wants and desires by telling us what we are lacking.
The spiritual discipline of gratitude gets us off the hamster wheel of constantly seeking that which does not satisfy and instead makes us tired and stressed. Gratitude shows us the abundance of the world we are in. It makes us aware of all that we are being given. And all that we have to give. Gratitude teaches us that we are all interrelated and interdependent not only with one another as people but with the earth and all life forms. We need the fish, and the ferns, and the fungi, and all other life forms to survive. We are dependent on nature, as a nursing baby is dependent on its mother. Our awareness of all of this, with the accompanying sense of abundance and generosity, feeds our souls and gives us a life-affirming sense of our place in the world and of our mutuality.
Especially during these COVID times, when things are uncertain and we feel separated and isolated and afraid, it is important that we keep our spirits up by cultivating the spiritual discipline of gratitude. We need gratitude as Paul says, in all circumstances. And the worse the circumstances, the more we need gratitude to help us stay steady, make it through, and weather the storm.
Much of the time we are on auto pilot. We are not paying attention. We are going through the motions. We are numb. We have compassion fatigue. We are depressed. And we forget about our need to be grateful, to cultivate gratitude, to express thanksgiving. And our lives are diminished without this necessary component of our human well-being.
I am thinking again about the little pouch of tobacco carried by the figures in Erdrich’s novel. Sprinkling tobacco here and there in the course of daily life as an expression of gratitude for all that is being given. Maybe we need some symbolic gesture or action that fits our circumstances to continually remind us to express gratitude. Something more than grace at meals and bedtime prayers. Something that can be woven into our daily lives. So that we can be firmly grounded in the abundance and generosity of the profusion of life and love within us and around us! Amen.
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