So yesterday I led worship at the College of William and Mary and I titled the service "Living Gratefully." I have been thinking about what it might mean to live gratefully, not in a pollyanna, prosperity gospel way, but in a way that takes seriously the deep paradoxes of life. What does it mean to live in gratitude even in the midst of suffering? Can we be authentically grateful even in the midst of grief and loss?
One story that always comes to mind when I think about this in The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Corrie and her sister were imprisoned in a Nazi camp for hiding Jews in their home. One of the stories in the book is that Corrie's sister reads a Scripture passage that says to be thankful for all things and so they give thanks for the fleas in the barracks. Corrie is a bit skeptical, to say the least, as I think most of us would be. Yet it was because of the fleas that the guards would not venture into the barracks which allowed them to hide the Bible they possessed, to talk together and share their meager rations. This seems to me, to be an authentic way of living in gratitude while not downplaying the reality of suffering. It also strikes me that Living Gratefully is a discipline..that we must practice living in gratitude. It also may not be as easy a discipline as it might seem at first, for to be authentically gratefully, would mean to be grateful even those when we are angry, sad, frustrated, afraid. It means being grateful for the fleas even when we are skeptical! Gratitude might spill forth when things are going well but I think only a practice of gratitude allows us to be grateful in the midst of suffering.
I was also thinking about how the word grateful is very close to grace-filled. Unitarian Universalists don't often talk about grace and I think we need to do so. I just finished reading William Schulz for my theology study group. Schulz defines grace as: "grace in fact refers to whatever blessings of Creation come to us unbidden, unheralded, and unearned. In this sense, the gracious—whether manifest in the rising of the sun, the sparkle of a fish, the chuckle of a child, or the deliverance of death—is the gateway to gratitude and the wellspring of faith."(What Moves Us, Workshop 9). Grace cannot earned and it cannot be demanded yet it is freely available to all of us.This is a core message of Unitarian Universalism!
Might it be that in accepting and welcoming grace, those gifts of Creation that come into our lives often unexpectedly and always unearned that we can then Live Gratefully?