Feeling Gratitude

gold pen on top of Today I Am Grateful book

Photo by gabrielle cole on Unsplash

In last week’s blog post, I shared how a common time of prayer can move from a sacred act to an unthinking habit. I think the main difference between the two is gratitude.
 
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of talk about how our faith can’t be based upon how we feel since that can change so easily depending upon this or that. While I am not arguing to the contrary, I do hesitate to parrot that advice because I believe we constantly have the opportunity for the most part to choose how we feel. Not in a Pollyanna-esque way of always “looking at the bright side” but in the sense of living our faith with our whole being – all our heart, all our soul, all our might – and being present enough to recognize our emotions and thoughts and physical reactions. Then to process them, to lean into what is happening within ourselves and probe the why and what now instead of just riding the surface wave of mood. In other words, how we feel.
 
Being present is a spiritual discipline. Allowing yourself the time and care to manage your wholeness is not something that comes naturally to most people, especially when we’re busy, stressed, and focused on being productive (though that begs the question of what we are producing when we’re preoccupied and stressed). Time is a luxury item that few seem to be able to afford. “Free time” is a misnomer; we all only have so much to spend and none of us know exactly what our balance is. Yet if our goal is to spend our lives in ways that make us more like Jesus who was so aware he felt it when a woman intentionally touched his robe in the middle of a bustling crowd, then a pursuit toward being present to ourselves is a worthy present to ourselves (pun intended).
 
Now, as someone who struggles with depression, I am not advocating for sweeping our emotions under a rug to claim some kind of spiritual maturity; that is in fact the opposite. I do, however, know that when I am able to take a few deep breaths, listen to myself, name what is happening within me, and perhaps connect some dots on why I feel such-and-such, I am much more likely to encounter God speaking to me in that moment. I am so grateful for those times we spend together. They become holy.
 
The poet of Psalm 100 adjured us to “enter [God’s] gates with thanksgiving”. Being present leads us to feeling gratitude, that difference between sacred act and careless habit. Take a deep breath and be known to yourself. I think the Holy Spirit will meet you there to draw you closer through gratitude.
 
– Amanda Zuehlke


Saying Grace

Praying Hands

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

My eight-year-old niece has been reciting the same prayer before family meals for several years now. It comes out in a jumbled rush: Godthankyouforthisfoodwe’reabouttoeatamen. I often find I barely have time to bow my head before the prayer is over. My amen is usually offered as a question; we’re done already? They are now teaching her a longer prayer.
 
That’s not to knock my adorable niece. Our typical at-home practice is to bow our heads as we hold hands and individually offer a silent petition. We squeeze each other’s hands to indicate we’re done. My own prayer is rather rote as well, and sometimes I think about the words moving through my head, and sometimes their familiarity is more habitual than heartfelt, especially the part about me being a blessing to others. (I frequently grumble my way through that.)
 
Ritual, of course, doesn’t mean rote. But like anything done on a regular basis, the danger of not really engaging in an act meant to be done with care is ever-present. Like driving home and wondering how you’re already in your driveway. Even our spiritual life can be done on autopilot.
 
Simply because something is common doesn’t mean it isn’t sacred. Just as before we take Communion the pastor offers the Words of Institution, grace before we break bread at our own tables is another sacredness. If we come to the Lord’s Table as equals in a moment of sharing meant to transcend the actions themselves – eat this bread, drink this cup and be my body, choose my will – can’t we do the same at other tables with family, friends, even ourselves? Can’t we let grace be words of instituting equality, fellowship, intimacy, and sympathy whenever we break bread?
 
I am reminded that grace is more than a name for a prayer before a meal. As a verb, it is synonymous with glorify and honor and crown. And, certainly, it would be remiss not to mention God’s grace, God’s great and wonderful mercy, which brings us back to prayer and offering blessings…
 
Perhaps it’s time for me to change my personal prayer at mealtime so I’m not just saying grace, but I am getting at the heart of it: gratiarum actio, “act of thanks”, which is the Latin origin. That way I might be more like Jesus who, after a long walk and conversation on the way to Emmaus, was only recognized when he blessed the meal and broke the bread. There must’ve been something significant about the grace of Jesus. May our eyes be opened as well.


Mosaic of Reflections

Ever jump into a project with enthusiasm and then wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into? It’s especially unsettling when you’re the one who thought up the project in the first place. If you’d only realized what was involved ahead of time: the mess, the anxiety, the frustration, the stress, the lack of control over all the parts…it certainly sounded like a great idea at the beginning, but who were you kidding thinking you could get this done exactly the way you expected to?
 
Becoming part of a faith community is much the same, I think. You join with enthusiasm, with a picture in your head of what it’s going to be like. You’ve found a place that shares your values, has friendly folks who do more than sit in their pews. Most, if not all, the check boxes are ticked. This is a place where you belong, where you can matter, where you can grow. It’s going to be great.
 
And it is great. But it’s also people, so it’s messy. It’s a church wrestling with faithfulness to God’s still-speaking voice, so it’s frustrating. It’s stepping up to serve in ways you never have, so it’s anxiety-ridden. It’s welcoming all, even those who disagree with you, so it’s a lack of control. There are so many pieces. How could they possibly come together and make sense, make an impact?
 
As we worked on our mosaic project together in September, I had many moments of questioning myself about this project. I experienced the full range of emotions as it progressed. I lost count of how many times I tried to share what the end result was meant to be, silently wondering to myself if this mosaic was going to get done exactly the way I expected it to.
 
I loved those who didn’t fully “get it” yet participated anyway, some enthusiastically and some hesitantly. Some who denied they could do anything artistic but still allowed themselves to be talked into giving it a try anyway and who enjoyed playing around. Some who reminisced about earlier years of creativity. Some who came to the table every week to do another couple tiles.
 
Mosaic

Perhaps we should title the mosaic “Liturgy”, for it truly is the work of the people.

On the day we unveiled the assembled-but-not-completely-finished mosaic, there was an audible reaction around Fellowship Hall. I experienced such deep joy and satisfaction to finally be able to share the result of all of our work together. After the meeting, some were drawn to inspect the piece up close. I loved one comment I heard: “It actually worked! It looked like just junk on the table, but now it’s beautiful!”
 
During that meeting, as we discussed staff changes and governance changes (messy things) and an incomplete budget (anxiety and frustration, anyone?), I started thinking about all those folks who participated in the mosaic project. They didn’t share the vision in my head, but they trusted the project’s purpose. They allowed themselves to get messy together, trusting that their work would produce something meaningful. They came to the same table, shared the same resources, but put their individual mark on the work.
 
Just like church. Our worship and worKship together has meaning and impact. We may not be able to see the fullness of what that is, especially amidst the mess and stress at times, but it isn’t “just junk on the table” – it is coming together. We are coming together, and it is beautiful!
 
Mosaic Update: Speaking of anxiety, it’s been quite the process to figure out the resin pour to seal and finish the mosaic. Once we start, we can’t go back. So we’ve been taking our time to learn to do this portion of the project. We expect, however, the mosaic to be finished and possibly hanging up by the end of next week (November 9).