I heard your voice as I sat inside my loneliness. You reminded me I was not alone. From being divided from my courage, I found my own powerful voice. You are not a green leaf blown by the slightest breeze. You are the untamed wind itself. In finding my original wildness, I reunited with the One.(Dwight Wilson, Modern Psalms: In Search of Peace and Justice, p 130, 2017, Friends United Press)
The winds here in North Carolin are quite impressive, which we were reminded of as we all took stock of the ways the winds shook the trees the last week of October. Some trees moved with the winds with no difficulty, others like our great pin oak outside the Meeting House shed branches and limbs that were ready to go, still others, like one outside my Friend, Ellen’s, home, were brought to the ground. We are thankful that Ellen suffered no damage to herself, her home, or car.
Thankfulness is like that isn’t it? Some folks have a habit of being thankful for avoiding disaster, others are thankful at times when gifts are given at birthdays or holidays. What about the thankfulness for the times when we experience the mystery of love, the presence of God? Is God’s presence a thunderbolt for you? For me God’s presence is a felt love, and my gratitude, my thankfulness, is a learned practice.
I give thanks for this day. Over the past weeks I have had the opportunity to visit with elder Friends in a retirement home. A warm moment has been to visit with Eugenia, aged 106 and her granddaughter Jenny during a compassionate care call. Eugenia was so delighted to visit with her granddaughter, beaming she declared that it had been an age since she had a face to face visit.
We know that the beauty of visiting with one another face to face has been a joy. We also know that we are taking special care of one another and keeping our distance. Many are finding ways to plan holiday visits that are safe and connected, even if less than ideal.
I found myself wondering again about the nature of gratitude. Gratitude has been a focus of world religions. The root of this word is ‘gratus,’ meaning pleasing or thankful. It has a sense of relationship between the giver and receiver. There is a mutuality, there is a relationship. Gratitude is one of the most powerful prayer practices in our tradition. In gratitude we reunite with wonder and awe.
In 2018, a Friends Committee on National Legislation article, written by Anna McCormally, offered this: What would our society look like if we embraced gratitude? Not just privately, in journals or personal prayers… but as a civic practice?
What if we held community forums to share our thanks with essential workers? How about offering public acts of gratitude? What if our public policy was based in gratitude rather than scarcity? What if we held conversations about the nature of our economy and how we might foster a different index of prosperity, one based on sharing rather than accumulation? McCormally wondered if we might be able to build a society in which the values are expressly radically compassionate.
What would our society look like if we embraced gratitude?
Mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart has been a voice for embracing the indwelling God and for expressing gratitude. He wrote an oft quoted statement, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.” As Friends/Quakers, we recognize that seeing that God within each of us is a part of our tradition. This has often been seen as suspect by those who want to judge others, who refuse to acknowledge the presence of the Divine in all persons. It is the mindset of judgement to take a narrow view. It is the mindset of judgement to neglect gratitude.
We can feel so very alone, with changes in an already fraught environment pushing us to protect our feelings, perhaps to make small boxes in our minds.
We hear Dwight Wilson naming the Holy One as the untamed wind itself. How might we find the ground of our being.
I give thanks for the image brought by the reading today from Dwight Wilson. As we sit in this time of extreme loneliness, we may have difficulty hearing God’s voice and may even have a sense we are not experiencing our own voice. Eugenia is a wonder to me. On the day of our visit we thought we would find this Friend, aged 106, and who dearly loves this Meeting, in physical distress. Instead, she was getting ready to get up and take a walk. Her hair freshly groomed and her dress carefully chosen, Eugenia told us that she had felt so lonely and so cut off since the start of the pandemic. She said she felt the lack of face to face contact had her feeling divorced from all of us. We have exchanged letters and held window visits, but the aching loneliness was profound. When we asked how she has managed through these many months she said she was so grateful for her life in God, grateful that the Friends Homes care givers were attentive. Her resilience is grounded in her faith and love of God. Now those of you who know this Friend would agree that she is pragmatic, but her lived experience of gratitude serves her, and preserves her.
Gratitude can be contagious. When we offer thanks, genuine thanks not the thoughtless tossing off casual use of the word, we feel differently. Those near by to that giving of thanks often offer a thank you right back, those mirror neurons in our brains respond- like calls to like, Light calls to Light, Deep calls to Deep. We are made this way. When Jen Perkins and I left our visit with her grandmother we felt blessed, we felt deep gratitude for a moment which seemed deeply sacred and very precious.
This is no cheap grace, not an insincere air kiss or platitude I’m talking about. This is a reality that some call Grace. This form of gratitude allows us to hold one another accountable for meaningful forms of sharing our energy, resources, time and talent. This is a radical root of our Christian faith. Jesus showed us that gratitude, service, and forgiveness are the foundation of the kingdom. This is an entirely different organization design. It is not a pyramid with a top dog or top God pushing or manipulating those below. Rather, the better image is a flat table, a common table where all gather, with up-front, honest speaking and compassionate listening. This is a vast spiritual plane where Grace is freely given, and no repayment expected. Grace invites us all to the table where we are reminded that we are not alone. We are not divorced from courage, nor are we asked to squelch own powerful voice. We are invited to join in the untamed wind of the Holy Spirit, wild and united in the One to, and here I quote that wild Friend George Fox,
“Sing and rejoice you children of the day and of the light; for the Lord is at work on this thick night of darkness that may be felt. And truth flourishes as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play. And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the seed Christ is over all and reigns.” Collections of many select Epistles to Friends… Letters of George Fox, Vol 1, 227
Take a moment to still your mind, to sit quietly and listen to your inner wisdom. If you wish, ponder these two questions in the stillness:
In what ways do we practice forms of gratitude?
In what ways do we, as a community, ensure a regular practice of gratitude?