My life has been on a roller coaster lately. It all began with a trip to urgent care, who then sent me to the ER, who informed me that I needed surgery. What a ride! I’m very grateful to be alive, to be living in a time of excellent medical care, and to have received so much love and care from family and friends over the last month.
Coincidentally the book on top of my “to read” pile when I went into the hospital was Diana Butler Bass’s latest, titled “Grateful.” Coincidence? Probably not. God always seems to know what I need to read and when I need to read it. I have been savoring her book, reading a chapter or two at a time. I was hooked, however, from her very first set of anecdotes about writing thank-you notes at the behest of her parents. I remember doing the same, sitting at the kitchen table, struggling to find the words to thank a distant relative for clothes that I did not like. Carefully, Butler Bass picks apart the social, cultural, historical, and spiritual meanings of thanks-giving. And interspersed in the text are scientific studies about the health benefits for living a grateful life.
I’d like to share with you two insights that struck me from the book thus far. First, two quotes caught my attention. The first by David Steindl-Rast early in the book, “Everything is a gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.” And likewise, a quote from Karl Barth, “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.” We are truly grateful when we realize that all of life, all that is, is a gift of God’s grace. We did nothing to earn this life, these people, or these glorious summer days. And once we breathe in that truth, we realize our only response is one of gratitude to God. Each day in the hospital I made it my practice to learn the names of my care team, and to thank them by name for the care they provided. A pretty simple task, made easier by their names printed on my white board. But I noticed a change in my attitude. I began experiencing their care for me as a gift.
A second insight is unfolding at my current bookmark in the book, and that is the connection between gratitude and community. When we gather together for play or celebration, we almost always end up more thankful than when we started. Play takes many forms. We can play a sport or a board game, read a book to a child, go for a walk at the beach, or sing in a choir. Even gathering for worship and fellowship contains an element of play as we approach the gifts of the day in wonder and expectation.
If you are like me, I’m certain that there are many reasons we could choose to be serious, to avoid play. The world situation, the financial needs of the church, health concerns are just a few that come to mind. But I would challenge you to join me in play. Sing, dance, and enjoy this life that we have been given. As the wise adage says, we call this moment in which we live “the present” because it is a gift of God to us. Let’s enjoy those gifts together.
With thanks in Christ, Pastor Amy