Practicing And Cultivating Gratitude

How do we make sense of hope for the coming year? How do we begin the year of 2021 with hope after everything that has happened in 2020 and the pandemic will continue to rage on going into 2021? Reading on the work of Scholar and Theologian, Diana Butler Bass, I found that gratitude does not negate or downplay the struggles and challenges we have faced and will be facing. On the contrary, gratitude will also give focus on the reality of our struggles and challenges together with the reality of our shared and mutual response. Hence the first part of this sermon series is to recognize that it is very hard to be thankful when faced with pain, sorrow, sickness or even death. Gratitude is like a person trying to find a light, any light in a pitch black road or room. Looking for the light or any light in a darkened place actually makes us more aware of the darkness that is all around us. However, it also heightens our sensitivity against danger or road blocks and it allows our eyes to adjust in that darkness to be able to still see. It is hard to make sense or to talk about hope. It seems to be so abstract or ethereal but grounding hope in gratitude helps us to have some solid grounding to walk on or a small yet clear light to see. It is with this that we are using Gratitude as our framework for hope for the coming year: Gratitude as explained, elaborated and reflected upon by Diana Butler Bass.

It cannot be overstated that gratitude is an emotion, a complex set of feelings involving appreciation, humility, wonder and interdependence. Gratitude is, however, more than just an emotion. It is also a disposition that can be chosen and cultivated, an outlook toward life that manifests itself in actions – it is an ethic.

To compare love and gratitude underscores one of the most important things about gratefulness – it is ultimately about connection.

Indeed, keeping a journal is one of the most often recommended ways for people to learn gratefulness, and several popular books attest to its power. Although I did not start out to specifically keep a gratitude journal, the act of journal writing itself (along with my friend’s mandate for one blessing a day) became a cue to notice the good things in my life.

This process was not a magic bullet, like a twenty-one-day diet promising perfect health. I did not begin journaling and discover that all my problems had gone away. Journaling was not a technique for happiness; instead, over three years, I developed a sustained practice that shifted my perspective. I learned to see differently and, as a result, acted in ways that were more forgiving, just, and hopeful. In this process, I learned two important things: First, when you look for things to be grateful for, you find them; and, second, once you start looking, you discover gratitude begets more gratitude. Like all habits, gratitude builds on itself.

Gratitude is not only the emotional response to random experiences, but even in the darkest times of life, gratitude waits to be seen, recognized, and acted upon more thoughtfully and with a sense of purpose. Gratitude is a feeling, but it is also more than that. And it is much more than a spiritual technique to achieve peace of mind or prosperity. Gratitude is a habit of awareness that reshapes our self-understanding and the moral choices we make in the world. In short, gratitude is an ethic, a coherent set of principles and practices related to grace, gifts, and giving that can guide our lives.

Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NRSV)

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