December finds us mid-way through our third year together, and I remain grateful for our shared ministries at Greater Nashville UU. I’ve been reading about gratitude lately, in our personal lives and in our congregational lives, and I was struck by this quote from Peter Steinke’s book, Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach:
“The health of a congregation is multifaceted. It is a power-sharing arrangement. Attitudes count. Working together counts. Faithfulness matters. Mood and tone are significant. For example, Hans Selye, a pioneer in charting the effect of emotional states on physical health, notes that the two emotions most detrimental to health are vengeance and bitterness. Conversely, the most nourishing attitude is gratitude.”
Steinke’s wisdom is echoed in John Kralik’s book, A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life. Kralik chronicles a terrible time in his life in which his physical health, his career, and many of his closest relationships are in exacerbating jeopardy. Tempted by surrender to bitterness and blaming, he instead makes a conscious choice to practice gratitude, and in a very specific way: he sets a goal for himself to write and send one thank-you note per day, for an entire year. Sometimes even he is embarrassed by the “smallness” of the thank you note (do I really intend to thank someone for that?), or the revelation of the thank you note (he is pretty vulnerable in some of his acknowledgments to others) – but what he discovers is that there is, apparently, no thank you that is too small, and that revelations about what matters invite revelations about what matters.
I intend to adopt Kralik’s practice as my own spiritual practice for 2018. Truthfully, I don’t know if I’ll manage one thank-you note per day – but I’ll try my best, and I think it will help me be just as attentive to the many things for which I am grateful as I am sometimes distracted by the many things that frighten or frustrate me because they feel and are so far beyond my personal control or comfort.
Would you like to join me in this practice? I’ve even imagined a “grub and gratitude” night (okay, we need a more elegant name!) at a local pub – we meet, talk, and bring our supply of thank you notes, writing with gratitude about the people and things that matter to us. I’ll let you know when and where.
In the meantime, happy holidays and holy days to you and your families. May our new year be filled with courage, love, and gratitude!
In our shared faith,
Rev. Carmen Emerson