Last week, I joined fifteen other pilgrims in the pilgrimage of a lifetime. We made our way through the minsters, cathedrals, and colleges of England, hearing Evensong and Choral Mass, saying prayers, lighting candles, learning our history, discovering our present, and reveling in our walk with God. You can see the daily reflections originally posted on Hickory Neck Church‘s Facebook page reprinted on this blog. In the meantime, I am grateful this week for this incredible group of people who opened up new spiritual discoveries for my own journey!
Sixteen pilgrims from Hickory Neck Church traveled to England for 8 days of pilgrimage. Our focus was on choral music, hearing Evensong or Choral Mass at a Cathedral, Minster, or college everyday. This is the seventh entry, initially posted on our church Facebook page. For those of you who do not follow us on Facebook, I am repeating the journey’s daily entries here. Enjoy!
London – Westminster Abbey/St. Paul’s Cathedral
Today’s journey highlighted a truth about our spiritual lives in general. One of the tricky dynamics of being a pilgrim in cathedrals, minsters, and colleges is you need a guide to teach you and create a depth of learning and growth. What the naked eye sees only gets you so far. Then you need someone who can explain how many years worship has happened there, why you are only one pilgrim in centuries of pilgrims, and how our history informs our present. Our guides are not just historical guides; they are spiritual guides too.
But the other part of pilgrimage is experience. No three hour lecture can replace the experience of staring at beautiful arches, stained glass windows, modern art, or a flickering prayer candle. No amount of talking can help you hear God more than just sitting and listening. No lesson on the historical period of a composer can help you hear the intricacies of Evensong that can sometimes take your breath away. Sometimes pilgrimage is about making space to hear and feel God in profound ways – in ways that are hard to access in the hubbub of everyday life.
Today was such a day. The morning was full of kings, queens, murder, theft, and a lot of royal history as it relates to the faith. This afternoon was about making room for God. And Evensong was a breath of fresh air – with sounds of comfort, of embracing gentleness, of the maternal nature of God. Today was about finding a spiritual guide and then letting go in order to meet God on your own.
Where are you on your journey? Do you need a guide, or perhaps a faith community, to start enriching your spiritual life? Or do you need to let go of learning for a time and simply bring yourself to God’s house for either new connections to Christ, or to recall richer spiritual times, waiting for enlightenment? I can’t wait to hear about your pilgrimage!
Sixteen pilgrims from Hickory Neck Church traveled to England for 8 days of pilgrimage. Our focus was on choral music, hearing Evensong or Choral Mass at a Cathedral, Minster, or college everyday. This is the fifth entry, initially posted on our church Facebook page. For those of you who do not follow us on Facebook, I am repeating the journey’s daily entries here. Enjoy!
Today, I was struck by the tremendous power of liturgy. We stumbled into a midday Eucharist at Salisbury Cathedral. It was spoken, and the homily was humbly short, but poignant. Then, as the priest set the table, she asked if anyone was a licensed Chalicist. I didn’t volunteer for fear someone else would want to help, and even unsure what the rules were in the Mother Church. But as the priest finished the Eucharistic Prayer, I determined I would just go up and offer to help. As soon as the priest saw my collar, she gratefully handed me the chalice. I found myself profoundly moved: doing something almost innate, but something that also felt foreign in the vast space, in a country not my own. And yet the power of Christ’s meal knows no boundaries. His blood is shed for you, and my body is His instrument.
Later this evening, we attended Evensong at Winchester Cathedral. The Adult singers and boy Chorister’s voices sang in perfection: clean and clear, expressive and moving. Their anthem, Deep River, is the third movement of Michael Tippett’s oratorio about the Nazi government’s violent pogrom against its Jewish population—called Kristallnacht. Pulling from African-American spirituals, this last movement holds a message of hope for the possible healing that would come from Man’s acceptance of his Shadow in relation to his Light. Combining the sound of spirituals and Anglican Choral singing, and the message of justice and reconciliation, I felt all my spiritual worlds colliding, and the words and sounds brought me to tears. I was amazed by how evocative a piece a liturgical music could be. I left Evensong feeling like I had journeyed with God somewhere deeply intimate and profoundly beautiful.
I don’t know if you have had one of those liturgical moments lately. If you are longing for that kind of connection, you are always welcome at Hickory Neck. And if you have found that liturgical blessing, do share it with someone who needs it!
The lyrics for Deep River:
My home is over Jordan.
Deep river, Lord.
I want to cross over into campground.
My home is over Jordan.
Deep river, Lord,
I want to cross over into campground.
Oh, don’t you want to go,
To the Gospel feast;
That Promised Land,
Where all is peace?
Oh, deep river, Lord,
I want to cross over into campground.
Tomorrow, I will help lead sixteen pilgrims on a journey through England. There have been countless details to coordinate, communication to send, logistics to handle back home, and preparations for the team’s spiritual guidance. Over a year of planning will come to fruition once we step on that plane, and I cannot be more excited to see what is in store for each person’s spiritual journey.
Many people have asked me why we would go on a pilgrimage. The truth is, there is no simple answer, and each person goes for their own reason. Perhaps at the heart of the reason is to forge a deep connection to God. For some, that connection is enriched with beautiful architecture, sacred art, and beautiful, holy music, all of which can be found in minsters, cathedrals, and colleges on our journey. For others, simply getting out of their routine, going to a foreign place, and taking on the ritual of walking, meditating, listening, and praying is how they enliven that connection. For others, relationship is their mode of connecting to God – relationship with team members, relationship to other pilgrims and Christians along the way, and relationship with our spiritual ancestors, who built these sacred spaces centuries ago. We go on pilgrimage to know God, to walk with Jesus, to be fed by the Holy Spirit. Many of us even go having no idea what to expect, but longing for something deep and abiding.
But we go not just to fill our own spirits – we go to bring back those renewed spirits. We go so we can share our journey with others. We go so we can come back better servants of the Good News. We go so our faith community is richer as a body. We go on pilgrimage for all of us. I invite your prayers for those who go this week. But I also invite your prayers for your own spiritual journey. May your week be enlivened, refreshed, and renewed as we walk together.
Please enjoy this poem found in Ian Bradley’s Pilgrimage: A Spiritual and Cultural Journey. Our team has used it in our own preparations, and would like to gift it to you.
To the Pilgrim
You were born for the road.
You have a meeting to keep.
Where? With whom?
Perhaps with yourself.
Your steps will be your words –
The road your song,
The weariness your prayers.
And at the end
Your silence will speak to you.
Alone, or with others –
But get out of yourself!
You have created rivals –
You will find companions.
You envisaged enemies –
You will find brothers and sisters.
Your head does not know
Where your feet are leading your heart.
You were born for the road –
The pilgrim’s road.
Someone is coming to meet you –
Is seeking you
In the shine at the end of the road –
In the shine at the depths of your heart.
He is your peace.
He is your joy!
God already walks with you!
This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. This is the time when our church community transforms our property for our Annual Fall Festival. Leading up to this week, there is a lot of organizing, delegating, preparing, and a fair amount of stress. But this week, everything snaps into place. The setup crew knows exactly what to breakdown and where it goes. The Attic Treasures crew knows just what layout works and the room is magically converted to look like the same inviting space. Later, our parking crew will come out and lay out where cars can park, tents will be erected, and all kinds of goods will be placed. Having done the festival for nineteen years, we know the drill and seem to operate from muscle memory.
I love this week for several reasons. One, I love seeing the community come together – both parishioners and neighbors alike, to make for a fun week of memories, laughter, and new experiences. I love seeing people’s passion for helping others unfold in a way that is loving, affirming, and fun. And I also love seeing people step up, taking on things that are a burden on their time, but doing so for the greater good. The week truly is inspiring, and I love inviting the larger community into our joy.
This week – or perhaps next week after the dust has settled – I invite you to consider what other parts of your faith life might need to be flexed enough so that you have muscle memory around them as well. Perhaps it is just making Sunday worship a part of your weekly experience with God – letting the routine of liturgy create a common pattern for you, while also seeing how the routine of liturgy creates surprising moments of grace and joy. Maybe your muscle memory can form around inviting people to church. I find the more I talk about a thing I am passionate about, the more talking about it becomes easy. Or maybe your muscle memory will be around creating practices that feed your soul – our monthly book group, our yearly Women’s Retreat, a weekly Bible Study or Choir rehearsal. If any of these practices create even a portion of the joy we experience during Fall Festival week, I expect you are in for a real treat. I cannot wait to hear about it!
One of things I am working on this summer is helping our parish leaders plan our fall Women’s Retreat. In interviewing guest facilitators, one of the facilitators talked about the scriptural theme of infertility. Having some amazing people in my life who are or have struggled with infertility over the years, I immediately connected with the idea. But the facilitator expands the definition of infertility as being unable to do the thing you felt you were created to do.
As I have been thinking about this expanded definition of infertility, I have seen that spiritual struggle all around me. Certainly, I have been aching for those who struggle with literal infertility, knowing what a crushing experience that can be. But I have also seen that same sense of infertility happen vocationally for people who really thought they would end up in a certain career, only to find their restrictive geography, their family responsibilities, or their inability to take on the time or financial commitment needed to pursue their dream making them unable to do the thing they felt created to do. As our diocese is looking at electing a new bishop, I am aware that all four of the current candidates have discerned they feel created to serve in this new role, and yet only one of them will be invited into that ministry.
But infertility strikes us in other ways too. This week I was listening to Kate Bowler’s podcast Everything Happens, and she and her guest were talking about palliative care and mortality. The two of them talked about how one of the disadvantages of our American culture is a sense of limitless – that we can do anything we want in life. And what both of them has seen, as a person in recovery from cancer, and a palliative care doctor, is the falsehood, or even the sinfulness, of the notion of limitlessness. When we think we can do anything our heart desires, we are inevitably disappointed when our bodies, our mortality, or other things outside our control, throw limits around our dreams. Part of their work has been helping people work through the sense of infertility that comes from that experience, and helping them find hope, healing, and new meaning in life.
As I have been thinking about literal and figurative infertility, I have been wondering whether sharing those stories might be a part of the healing process. Something about naming the struggle and sharing the journey has power to not only help you move toward invitations to new vocations, but also has the power to encourage others to name their infertilities, destigmatize them, and transform them into something else that can be lifegiving. If you are looking for a safe place to do that, I invite you to join our community of faith – a place where wounded souls are heard, broken hearts are mended, and new paths are celebrated. You are not alone. We would be honored to walk with you. I suspect we need you as much as you may need us.
This past Sunday we celebrated an “Instructed Eucharist,” a worship service in the Episcopal Church narrated to explain how and why we do the things we do in Church. Though Instructed Eucharists are pretty common in the Episcopal Church, I had never led one myself, and I found I was pretty nervous about how it would go. I worried the narrative pieces would feel too long and people would start to lose attention. I worried the worship would feel too disjointed by narration to feel like worship. I worried the teaching portion would not be particularly meaningful for those gathered.
As in most things, my worries were unfounded. Many of those gathered shared that the narrative did not make the service too long. In fact, they were surprised at how seamlessly the narrative flowed, and how engaging the experience was. Several of those gathered were touched by the parts that are always touching – scripture, music, preaching, the peace, communion, and the dismissal. And many of those gathered, of all ages, and of all spiritual backgrounds, shared not only did they love the service, but they also learned many new things.
What caught my attention about the feedback was not simply that people liked the experience. What caught my attention about the feedback was people were excited about worship. Having learned something about the weekly ritual of worship allowed our worship to shift from the physical (the habits of bowing, kneeling, standing, singing, eating, greeting) to the mental (understanding the theology, history, and spirituality of our worship) to the spiritual (the opening of our bodies and minds creating deeper connection with God). That kind of excitement is at the heart of what drew most Episcopalians to the Episcopal Church – a ritual that somehow spoke to something deep inside them, and of which they wanted more. Sometimes that longing could be easily described, but sometimes that longing was too mysterious to capture in words.
If you had that experience this past Sunday, or if you have ever been touched by that mysterious sense of God in the worship within the Episcopal Church, I invite you to share that sense of wonder with someone today. You may share the first moment you stepped into an Episcopal Church, or a lifetime of practice, or a simple Instructed Eucharist. Share the wonder and beauty with someone else, and invite them into the same experience that has enlivened your spiritual journey. And if you have never had that experience in a church before, know you are welcome to join us at Hickory Neck – a place where you can weekly come and participate – whether physically, mentally, or spiritually – in something bigger than yourself, but in something that makes you feel more grounded in yourself – something that allows you to find God within, already there waiting for you, affirmed in the community around you. You are welcome here.
Before I went to seminary, I participated in a program at my parish called EFM – Education for Ministry. I know many Hickory Neck parishioners have done the program, but for those of you who are unfamiliar, the program is a four-year program where a small group of people gather and each year study a different topic – Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, and Theology. When I was taking the class, during one of the scripture years, I was traveling by plane alone and I was sorely behind in my scripture reading. So I threw my overly large study bible into my bag, planning to use flight time and layover time in airports to catch up on my scripture reading. Now, I do not know if you have ever thought about taking a huge study bible along with you to an airport, but I would encourage you to think long and hard before you do. Over the course of the day I found I could barely read in peace. I had a middle-aged woman chat endlessly about her church and bible studies she had enjoyed. And of course, there were tons of people who just stared at me warily trying to figure out what my angle was and making sure they had a ready escape just in case. You would think the lesson from my trip would be, “Take a Bible with you, and see what evangelism opportunities the Bible creates.” But to be honest, I found myself wanting to never carry a Bible with me again in an airport.
These days, I find wearing a collar has a similar effect. Just this week, I was in a parking lot and some man approached me about giving money to his ministry. After I agreed to take some information instead of giving him cash, he asked me what the thing around my neck was. When I told him I was an Episcopal priest, he gave me a smirk, and kind of grunted as he turned away and looked for his next “customer.” Most often when I am in my collar, people stare – sometimes discretely, but other times I have to catch their eye before they realize how blatantly they are staring. Other times – probably my favorite times – people will tentatively ask me if I am clergy and then will ask some really interesting questions, sometimes even asking me for a prayer.
I get to have a lot of God conversations because of my collar. But when I am in plain clothes, and I imagine for most of us here, finding ways to engage others about faith is trickier. We certainly could lug around a huge study bible. We could print up some Hickory Neck gear and either hope people talk to us, or make sure the gear says “Ask me about my church!” We could get really bold and when we are at the coffee shop put up a little sign that says, “Ask me about Jesus and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.” Or we could take the opposite tack, and just hope not only someone will randomly talk to us, but also the conversation will magically shift toward spirituality, church, or God.
Truthfully, when most of us think about evangelism or having spiritual conversations, we kind of wish we could be a little like Paul in our scripture lesson today. Paul travels from town to town, receives direct instruction from God about where he should go, and when he and his group talk with a group of praying women, one of them – in fact, a prominent, powerful woman of wealth, not only decides to be baptized, but also invites Paul and his group to stay in her home. When we think about evangelism, or at least the baptismal covenant promise we make to share Good News, we want something similar. We want God to be super obvious about where we should go and to whom we should speak. We want to know if the coffee shop, the grocery store, or the brewery will be the place where we can avoid awkwardness and have a meaningful conversation. We would love to know we are going to talk to a group of spiritually-minded people who are open to what we have to say. And, secretly, we would be thrilled if whatever conversation we have leads to a total conversion – someone as enthusiastic as Lydia who wants to come with us to church on Sunday. If Jesus, the church, or our crazy clergy keep insisting that we talk to people in our community and have God conversations, we at least want to be assured we will have as smooth of an experience as Paul.
But that’s the funny thing about Paul’s experience. Paul does not really seem to know how to handle this evangelism thing much better than us. In the verses of Acts before our text today, we are told that Paul starts out for Asia, but the Holy Spirit prevents him from going there. As Paul keeps trying cities on the way to Europe, he finally has a dream where a man from Macedonia implores him to come and help. But once Paul finally makes his way to Macedonia, the man from his vision never appears. In fact, Paul and his crew hang out for several days in the city, not seeming to do anything. Not until the sabbath does Paul seek out people who are already worshiping. Paul does not approach strangers or people whose faith is unknown to him. Instead, he finds the familiar – people of his own tradition, praying to God, and there he decides to share his faith. And although Paul thought he was bringing blessing to others, Lydia is the one who brings blessing to him – offering her home and hospitality, and continuing to do so when Paul gets in trouble with the law (which is a story for next week!).
At the heart of what happens in our story today is what theologian Ronald Cole-Turner calls the “inexplicable convergence of human faithfulness and divine guidance.” According to Cole-Turner, “Paul would not have been guided to this place at this moment, were he not first of all at God’s disposal, open to being guided, sensitively attuned to being steered in one direction and away from all others. Lydia would not have arrived at this place or time, had she not first of all been a worshiper of God, a seeker already on her way. Paul does his part and Lydia hers, but it is God who guides all things and works in and through all things, not just for good but for what would otherwise be impossible.”[i]
That is our invitation today: to be faithful. To be willing to listen to God, to be willing to speak, even when we worry what others might think of us, and to be willing to listen to and honor the story of others. That is really all Paul does – rather clumsily, but faithfully. And we can be faithful in that way – on the golf course, at work or school, at the local eatery, because we know that there will be an inexplicable convergence of our faithfulness with divine guidance. We can be faithful because we know God will show up. God will make sure we have that casual conversation that leads to us talking about why in the world we would work so hard to get ourselves and/or our families here every Sunday. Jesus will make sure that when someone is sharing something vulnerable or painful with us, we will be able to name God’s presence in the midst of their experience. The Holy Spirit will make sure that when we open our mouths, despite the fact we have no idea what to say, something meaningful will be said. Divine guidance will be there because of our human faithfulness. Inexplicably converging, and working for good. I cannot wait to hear your stories of convergence! Amen.
[i] Ronald Cole-Turner, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 476.
Last week, Paul talked to us through his first letter to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts. He talked about how there are a variety of gifts, and although they are all different, they are all activated by God. As Charlie talked about this lesson last week, he encouraged us to reflect on our own spiritual gifts, and then to use that discernment to determine how we might support the ministries of Hickory Neck. In fact, today we will gather our Time and Talent forms, blessing our discernment and our offering of those spiritual gifts.
If the portion of Paul’s letter last week affirmed that we all have gifts, the portion of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we hear today tells us how the use of our gifts within the church is not just a nice thing to do – like bringing someone flowers. No, today Paul explains to us the sharing of our gifts is critical to the operation of the church as an organism. In other words, without each of us giving our gifts to the church, the whole church either limps along as an incomplete body or does not function at all.
Any of us who have had an injury or are currently suffering through a portion of our body not working knows how this works. A couple of weeks ago, my hands got really dry and a little crack developed on my thumb. Literally, the crack was about an eighth of an inch in size. And yet, it was one of the most painful experiences. Over the next few days, I realized the pain wasn’t going to stop and the cut wasn’t going to heal until I put on a Band-Aid. The first challenge is figuring out how to make the Band-Aid stick when the cut is not on a flat surface. Then, of course, do you know how hard keeping the thumb dry to maintain a Band-Aid is? Suddenly, you find you are washing your hands and your face in super awkward contortions – sometimes electing to use only one hand while washing your face, or giving up altogether so you can help give a bath to your little one. And once you have the Band-Aid on your thumb, you do not have the same kind of grip on things like jars and bottles you are opening.
This drama is the same for any part of us that is damaged. We never realize how important one of our body parts is until we lose or have limited use of the part. For a brief period of time, once the body part is healed, we find ourselves thanking God for our thumb, or kidney, or heart. But we are a pretty forgetful people, and eventually, we stop thanking God for the incredible parts of our body. We walk, eat, talk, ponder, laugh, exercise, and breathe without thinking about all the tiny parts needed to make those functions possible in the first place. Everyday, we could easily pray through hundreds of parts of our bodies, thanking God for each part that works. And yet, I know very few healthy people who engage in such thanksgiving and gratitude. Even folks who were once ill or injured seem to forget the painful reminders of not being whole once wholeness is restored.
Paul uses the classic metaphor of the body to help the Corinthians see that the body of the faithful is no different. Once the community has done a spiritual assessment, once those Time and Talent forms are turned in, we are not done. We do not take those forms and say, “Okay, we got an usher, someone willing to adopt a church garden, a Sunday School teacher, and someone to make meals. We did not get someone to operate the sound system, or deliver welcome baskets to newcomers, or help layout the newsletter. Ah well, we’ll be fine.” Paul knows we cannot operate the body of Christ this way in the same way that anyone with a broken toe or someone with fluid in their lungs or ears cannot operate at full capacity. As Paul familiarly says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”[i]
Paul’s letter today reminds of a few things. First, we are not fully honoring our own bodies when we do not offer our gifts to the church. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I tried out many things. I remember a Marketing department tried to convince me that I would be a great asset to their team. And, I probably would have been pretty good at the work and the team did seem to have a lot of fun. I remember how I loved working at a Food Bank and my awesome boss, even though most of my fellow volunteers were not people of faith. I remember being thrilled when I landed at a Habitat for Humanity affiliate, serving a good cause, talking about our faith, even praying at staff meetings. And yet, something still felt unbalanced. And so the church became my playground. I learned how to lead Morning Prayer, I fumbled my way through an adult bible study, and they even convinced me to co-lead the Middle School class! What Paul would remind seekers like you and me is the church is the place where we can find a sense of wholeness by using all the parts of our bodies. The church may be the place where the teacher by weekday brings his gifts to the Sunday School classroom on Sundays; or the church may be the place where the teacher by weekday finds her gifts are better utilized organizing a portion of the Winter Shelter. The Church is the place where our head and our hands, our bodies, are affirmed.
The second thing Paul’s letter does is remind us how essential each person in the body is. When other ancient writings used the metaphor of the body, they used the metaphor to determine social or political status; whomever was the head had power over the hands, feet, and legs.[ii] [iii] Not so with Paul. Paul says the head is just one part of many. In fact, those parts we often forget about are usually the essential missing link to powerful ministry. So, you may have been at home this week thinking, “Meh! Hickory Neck has nine toes, they will be fine without me.” Today, Paul asserts ministry does not work without you – whether you are the pinkie toe or the big toe! Not all of us are great lectors, are handy with a wrench, or are tech savvy. But we are all good at something – and when that “something” is not offered, the body of Hickory Neck is not whole. Each of us, even the littlest one who goes to the nursery on Sundays, or the homebound member who rarely gets to join us, has an ability to make us better. In fact, Paul might argue that those two individuals should have the highest honor in the community. In other words, even if you do not think you have a gift special enough to give, the church needs you.[iv] Hickory Neck is not whole without your offering.
The final thing Paul’s letter does is a little more subtle. Even when all of us fill out our Time and Talent forms, and even when we make that stretch and agree to lead Children’s Chapel, take communion to a parishioner, or help with marketing, Hickory Neck will still not be complete. There will always be parts of the body that are not operating at full capacity because not everyone is here yet. This is why whenever a newcomer decides to become a member, we encourage them to look over the Time and Talent form – even if they join at a time well past stewardship season. Each new person who enters through our doors has something new and fresh to teach us – something we as the community of Hickory Neck were missing until that fateful day you walked through our doors. But if each new person makes us more whole, that means there are a lot of other holes in our body from all the people we have not yet invited into our fold. For every neighbor, friend, and stranger who was looking for wholeness and yet we did not invite to church, our community suffers. For every person whose socioeconomic status, skin color, or sexual orientation is not like ours that we did not invite to church, our community suffers. For every person who is not my age, does not have my physical or mental abilities, or does not agree with my politics that we did not invite to church, our community suffers. When we read Paul’s letter and when we look at our Time and Talent forms this week, we will invariably see the people we forgot to invite to church who would make us so much better as a community.
Today’s word from scripture is both affirming and convicting. Paul wants us to know that each us has the capacity for wholeness when we use all the gifts God gives us. Paul wants us to know that our Church needs us, in all our unique, odd, loveliness. Paul wants us to know that the Church is the place where everyone has a place. But Paul also wants us to know that we are not done. We have sometimes not affirmed our own beautiful selves, we have sometimes held back our gifts from the church, and we have sometimes avoided welcoming in the very people who would make Hickory Neck a fuller version of her fantastic self. Our invitation this week is to say yes: say yes to honoring our own bodies with all their fabulous gifts; say yes to trying new adventures at church that will bless us in ways we cannot imagine; say yes to inviting a person who we might not even consider compatible with our image of who Hickory Neck should be. Paul promises God will arrange the body so that we can all rejoice together. Amen.
[i] 1 Corinthians 12.21
[ii] Lee C. Barrett, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 278.
[iii] Troy Miller, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 279.
[iv] Raewynne J. Whiteley, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 283.
I don’t know about you, but I find my spiritual life has hills and valleys. There are times when I feel especially close to God, and that closeness leads to a sense of overflowing gratitude. And there are times when I fill up the extra space in my life with everything but God. In those valleys, I sometimes feel God is far away – mostly because that is where I pushed God. In those times, gratitude is often the last thing I experience. Instead, I can be irritable and short-tempered.
In order to stay out of those valleys of self-absorption, I have found I need intentional practices of gratitude. Celebrating Thanksgiving Day tomorrow helps put most of us in a spirit of gratitude (assuming we are not in a spiral of menacing traveling conditions, dread about time with challenging family members, or anxiety about food preparations). But this year, I have found that I am coming into Thanksgiving Day with a full cup. I am working on a stack of thank you notes for the generous pledges our parishioners have made to our church; the generosity of our parishioners makes writing the notes a joy. Our church has been negotiating a new partnership which looks like may come to fruition; it is the culmination of a lot of dreams, most of which began before my arrival, and the promise of fulfillment is at times overwhelming. And our church has two different services for Thanksgiving: one with our ecumenical brothers and sisters, and a mass on Thanksgiving Day; both are occasions for deep joy and gratitude.
The thing about these events and experiences is they cultivate in me a spirit of gratitude. When my spirit is primed for thanksgiving, every time I take a walk or hop in my car, I find a breathtaking tree that has hit its peak fall color. When my spirit is primed for thanksgiving, the little things my family does – an unprompted “thank you,” a cleaning up of the kitchen, a spontaneous hug – all make my heart warmed. When my spirit is primed for thanksgiving, I see the daily tasks of others that go unnoticed: the county worker clearing a dead animal from the street, the childcare provider who sees my child being extra clingy and swoops her up in a big, distracting hug, or the administrator who has already thought about the things on my mind and started the projects I need accomplished.
If your spirit has not been primed, there is still time. Perhaps you can start with tomorrow’s celebration, looking for glimpses of hope and blessing throughout your day (even in the midst of family drama, I promise you can find those glimpses!). But do not let the thanksgiving end there. Find ways to enrich your spirit each day: whether it is putting on lenses of gratitude, taking up a tangible practice, or surrounding yourself with others who are naturally inclined toward an attitude of gratitude. My suspicion is you will find your cup running over soon, and that overflow can be a blessing to others!