Gratitude Tethers

| August 1st, 2023

Dear Beloved Community,

When the dear old dad of my oldest friend Anna gave me a hard time last week for turning the ripe old age of 42 — “that sure sounds like an age when you’d know a thing or two!,” he cheerfully declared — I had fun pondering what all I’m learning as I settle into my 40s. With each passing year, my appreciation grows for things like a really fantastic mattress, and good sunscreen, and investing in meaningful experiences, and belly laughs with people I love most.

But perhaps there’s no better teacher for me than that of gratitude. I love David Steindl-Rast’s word on gratitude, saying

“Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.”

Indeed, true gratitude is free of trite platitudes or naive optimism. Gratitude doesn’t act as an antidote for all that grieves us, all the losses and fears and anxieties and heartbreaks of our days. Rather, gratitude tethers. It links us — one to another, one to the earth, one to God — framing all the things of this world within the lens of gift. All of it. Gift upon gift, grace upon grace.

The cultural rhythms of our days might suggest that gratitude is a November-December practice, that we need pumpkin spice and eggnog and halls decked and merry carols to really feel grateful. Yet gratitude, when practiced on the regular, begets gratitude; meaning, the more you experience and express it, the more it grows! Gratitude is just as real in August (and April and May … and yes, even January!) as it is during the holidays. August seems to hang suspended in a pregnant in-between: between summer and fall, between sabbath and work, between play and productivity. Cultivating our awareness of gratitude in this time of year, then, means we have only to look to the thick vines of red tomatoes in backyard gardens and fireflies dotting a darkened street. To the first hints of cool mornings that point us toward fall. To rows of yellow pencils, just waiting to be sharpened and put to use. To resumed rhythms, new horizons, returning to self and community and the cadences of the ordinary. 

You’ll find many sources of my gratitude (and perhaps yours too!) in this August newsletter: a new Ministry Assistant to strengthen our team, new members whose unique hopes and bold faithfulness are already felt, studies and conversational opportunities to enrich our lives on the Way of Christ, and continued marks of our beloved community’s vitality and vision. And I’m already grateful for what lies just on the September horizon, as our fall rhythms will return in their fullness. 

The English writer Samuel Johnson once said, “Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation.” Paul links gratitude and joy, a true “fruit of the spirit.” And to that, Diana Butler Bass adds: “Gratitude is not only an emotion; it is something we do. It is like tending a garden. It takes planting and watering and weeding. It takes time and attention. It takes learning. It takes routine. But, eventually, the ground yields, shoots come forth, and thanksgiving blooms.”

Together in God’s work of Love,

Pastor Emily