Thanks to Richard Gunderman of YES! Magazine for sharing this Great Idea.
Gunderman writes, “Gratitude may be more beneficial than we commonly suppose. One recent study asked subjects to write a note of thanks to someone and then estimate how surprised and happy the recipient would feel – an impact that they consistently underestimated. Another study assessed the health benefits of writing thank you notes. The researchers found that writing as few as three weekly thank you notes over the course of three weeks improved life satisfaction, increased happy feelings, and reduced symptoms of depression.”
Read the YES! Magazine article here.
Congregations can build gratitude practices into worship, faith formation, and small group gatherings on a regular basis. You might begin by reading the article together to set the frame-work for an intentional focus on developing the congregation’s gratitude practices.
Then start building in specific forms of gratitude:
- As you gather, offer a Land Acknowledgment that not only acknowledges the original (and in some cases continual) stewardship of the Indigenous peoples who inhabited the land since before white settlers arrived, but also offers gratitude for the land itself, upon which your people gather.
- During a Thanksgiving for Baptism, invite people to come to the font, dip their fingers in the water, and share aloud one baptism gift for which they are grateful (this community, supportive spiritual siblings, spiritual gifts to make work a joy, etc.).
- During the Prayers of the People/Assembly Prayers, invite people to write out a gratitude for healing, comfort, presence, or anything else that comes to mind.
- As part of the Blessing/Benediction or Sending, invite people to send a sense of gratitude from their hands or feet (whatever is physically contact with the worship space) into the physical space and land you inhabit – not only for the people gathered there, but for the land on which you gather.
A colleague brought the following quote from John O’Donohue to my attention a couple weeks ago and it has shaped much of my thinking, since:
“Is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there? Perhaps your place loves having you there. It misses you when you are away and in its secret way rejoices when you return. Could it be possible that a landscape might have a deep friendship with you? That is could sense your presence and feel there care you extend towards it? Perhaps your favorite place feels proud of you.” (found at goodreads).
Pairing this sentiment with how “consistently underestimated” the surprise and happiness of thank you note recipients was, it seems appropriate to include the earth and all creation in our gratitude – perhaps we miss/underestimate the need for this gratitude most of all.
Maybe that’s why in many of our traditions the highlight and center of worship is called, The Great Thanksgiving: when we join the cosmic celebration of gratitude in and for the Divine Presence, made known in the very physical, land- and creation-based materials of wheat/grain/bread and grape/juice/wine.
SIMPLE FORMS OF GRATITUDE TO ENJOY AT HOME:
- Leaning into a place’s fondness for its inhabitants: every time you step outside, offer gratitude for the place that shelters you and the land upon which it stands; every time you return, repeat that gratitude in greeting.
- Every time you step outside, bless the earth with gratitude for its constant nourishment of human and creature.
- End each day by writing out a list of one or more gratitudes for that particular day.
- Begin each day with these or similar words, “I thank You God for most this amazing day” (e.e. cummings)
- Invite each person to name a gratitude at the beginning or end of family meals; bless the meal with words of gratitude.
- Any time you feel especially grateful, absorb that feeling: let yourself truly feel it, identifying how your body, mind, and spirit participate in the sense of gratitude. Try to remember that feeling as you offer other forms of gratitude throughout your day.
Explore gratitude throughout the month of November (or anytime), then let any Thanksgiving celebrations feature practices of gratitude. This might be a wonderful way to convert Thanksgiving celebrations from a colonial mindset to appreciation for both our history and a more promising future for all of God’s creation. Find some Thanksgiving alternatives here.
Offering and even feeling gratitude is simple, yet often difficult to appreciate as a practice. Developing intentionality around gratitude is an antidote to depression, anxiety, loneliness, despair, and feeling overwhelmed. Try it – you’ll like it!!