Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. This week’s timing in terms of posting is a bit different than usual due to the Thanksgiving holiday and my own travel and family commitments. I’m in Baltimore with my family celebrating the holiday with my parents, brother, husband, son, and family friends. Being together is always a time to be thankful—thankful for our togetherness, thankful for our ability to travel and come together, and thankful for the joy and blessings we share when we are together.
This post also marks the last post of the liturgical year. It has been a full year now that I’ve been posting these worship outlines. I am deeply grateful for all of you who have engaged with this space and for all of you who have held me and this project in your prayers. After Thanksgiving, I will be starting a new liturgical year of worship outlines, starting with Advent. In addition I will be reflecting on this past year and looking forward to what God has in store for this space in the year to come. Stay tuned to all these new developments and if you’d like to receive an email about it all as well as each week with a link to the week’s worship outline, please subscribe at the bottom of this post. Thank you for being part of this and I hope you continue to engage in the year to come.
Season of Gratitude
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:6-7, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
We walk on starry fields of white
And do not see the daisies;
For blessings comm on in our sight
We rarely offer praises.
We sigh for some supreme delight
To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
Of pleasures sweet and tender.
Our cares are bold and push their way
Upon our thought and feeling.
They hand about us all the day,
Our time from pleasure stealing.
So unobtrusive many a joy
We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives,
And conquers if we let it.
There’s not a day in all the year
But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
To brim the past’s wide measure.
But blessings are like friends, I hold,
Who love and labor near us.
We ought to raise our notes of praise
While living hearts can hear us.
Full many a blessing wears the guise
Of worry or of trouble;
Far-seeing is the soul, and wise,
Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength
To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
To gladden every morrow.
We ought to make the moments notes
Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow
As weeks and months pass o’er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
A grand Thanksgiving chorus.
— by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, from Drops of Water: Poems, 1872, p. 125
Message: Season of Gratitude
Gratitude itself is more than a feeling or something that we should do on Thanksgiving each year. Gratitude is a powerful way of life and state of mind. Study after study has shown that people who consistently engage in the practice of gratitude lead happier and more fulfilling lives. It’s a state of feeling enough and feeling like you have enough even if that’s only for a moment.
In the grief work that I do as a hospital chaplain, someone’s ability to express gratitude, any type of gratitude be it tiny like thanking someone for bringing them a cup of water or something bigger, like thanking a family member for their influence on the person’s life; any type of gratitude demonstrates the person’s capacity to work through their grief and not fall into a depression that they can’t get out of. It may sound like a simple thing to look out for, which it is, but while simple, gratitude is incredibly powerful. Gratitude is a heart feeling, a body feeling, a spirit feeling. It helps us pause for a moment and reflect. Gratitude helps us to be present. Gratitude helps us love.
There are so many gratitude practices out there. For a year I wrote in a journal every day at least three things I was grateful for in reflection on the prior day. When I worked at an outdoor education school in California, our staff meetings each week would start with a time of sharing gratitude. While listening to other’s share, I would illustrate my list of things I was thankful for and created a beautiful journal to hold these thoughts. I have a harder time these days writing in a journal every day or even every week, but as the winter winds blow through Vermont, each morning I make a fire with my son and we sit before the wood stove and watch the fire catch. As the wood begins to burn, I share with Gideon what I’m thankful for and spend a few moments in silence with him appreciating the moment.
My sister-in-law’s family gathers before dinner and with her young boys they share what they are thankful for each day. With little kids sometimes you get things like “I’m grateful for poop” but I’m amazed at how reflective these kids are learning to be at such a young age.
Gratitude can also be pausing throughout your day and appreciating the beauty that is around you. It can be doing something formal or informal. A friend of mine from high school posted on Facebook every day of November one year thanking a different person from his life. These were deeply felt and personal notes of thanks, where he reflected on how different people influenced his life. Another friend of mine for several months wrote one thing she was grateful for on a slip of paper and put it in a jar. Now on days that she is feeling down or depressed she opens the jar and read them. There is warmth in that feeling of gratitude. There is joy and there is healing.
I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about the Danish concept of hyyge. On her blog hygge house, Alex Beaucham writes:
Hygge (pronounced hue-guh not hoo-gah) is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special. Hygge (or to be “hyggeligt”) doesn’t require learning “how to”, adopting it as a lifestyle or buying anything. It’s not a thing and anyone telling you different either doesn’t understand it or is literally trying to sell you something that has nothing to do with the concept. You can’t buy a ‘hygge living room’ and there’s no ‘hygge foods’ to eat. Hygge literally only requires consciousness, a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present – but recognize and enjoy the present. That’s why so many people distill ‘hygge’ down to being a ‘feeling’ – because if you don’t feel hygge, you probably aren’t using the word right.
So when I’m thinking about the healing, powerful, beautiful practice of gratitude this winter season, I’m considering hyyge, because when I’m holding my son on my lap watching the fire catch each morning, it’s the feeling, the heart feeling of beauty, of coziness, and of enough that flows through my body. It’s a practice of grounding in the present and finding joy in what we already have, in what we already are, and in what is already among us.
Below are twenty other gratitude practices that were developed while I was teaching spiritual caregiving to volunteers in Boston. Read through them and see if anything shimmers for you. Maybe something else arises in your waiting worship that helps you find and feel gratitude in your life. Maybe close your eyes and find that feeling of gratitude inside of you. As you notice it, expand its edges and feel it radiate throughout your whole body. Maybe one of these practices will help you throughout your day, your week, your year to come back to that feeling. For in that feeling there is the presence of God, expanding and radiating love throughout your life.
Twenty Gratitude Practices
1. “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in ink.” — G. K. Chesterton, quoted in Different Seasons by Dale Turner
To practice this thought: Begin each new activity with a brief grace.
2. “Let us give thanks for unknown blessings already on the way.”
— a mealtime blessing at Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat center in Pennsylvania
To practice this thought: Say a prayer of thanks for the surprises already winging their way to you.
3. “Live together, every day, as though it was the last day you had to live in this world.”
— Ann Lee, quoted in God Among the Shakers by Suzanne Skees
To practice this thought: Try this spiritual exercise and see how it deepens your feelings of presence and gratitude.
4. “Our first line of defense against unhappiness is refusing to believe that we are the victims of the bad intentions of others. The formula is: Do not blame the trigger. The world is full of triggers; in fact, life is designed like that, so that we will truly practice. We can be grateful for all these triggers, as without them we might never recognize our own unfortunate reactions.”
— Ayya Khema in Visible Here and Now
To practice this thought: Be thankful for whatever forces you to deal with your own strong emotions.
5. “The economics of affluence demands that things that were special for us last year must now be taken for granted.”
— David Steindl-Rast in The Music of Silence
To practice this thought: Act counter to the culture of affluence. Be grateful for something you’ve had a long, long time.
6. “The eighth-century Chinese Zen master P’an-shan had his first satori (enlightenment-glimpse) while walking through a marketplace. He overheard a customer tell the butcher, ‘Cut me some of the good stuff’; the butcher replied, ‘Hey, take a look—nothing but good stuff!’ This was just the catalyst P’an-shan needed. He took a look, perhaps, at the ground, the sky, the people in their bustle of buying and selling...and everywhere he saw nothing but good stuff.”
— Dean Sluyter in Why the Chicken Crossed the Road and Other Hidden Enlightenment Teachings from the Buddha to Bebop to Mother Goose
To practice this thought: Stop, see, and give thanks for “the good stuff” all around you.
7. “There is always enough and enough is plenty.”
— Guillermo from the Balearic Islands in Spain, quoted in Simply Living, edited by Shirley Jones
To practice this thought: The next time you are window shopping, use this phrase as a mantra.
8. “The sun is new again, all day.”
— Heraclitus, quoted in Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus, translated by Brooks Haxton
To practice this thought: Rejoice and give thanks for this stunning miracle.
9. “Even Socrates, who lived a very frugal and simple life, loved to go to the market. When his students asked about this, he replied, ‘I love to go and see all the things I am happy without.’” — Jack Kornfield in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
To practice this thought: On your next trip to the mall, pretend you are visiting a museum. Admire the beautiful objects but don’t touch anything.
10. “Whenever I am checking bags at an airport, I recall St. Teresa of Avila’s wonderful prayer of praise,
‘Thank God for the things I do not own.’”
— Kathleen Norris in The Quotidian Mysteries
To practice this thought: The next time you are in a store, repeat St. Teresa’s prayer.
11. “I am personally thankful that we live together in a large moral house even if we do not drink at the same fountain of faith. The world we experience together is one world, God’s world, and our world, and the problems we share are common human problems. So we can talk together, try to understand each other, and help each other.”
— Lewis B. Smedes in Choices
To practice this thought: Recount one insight about yourself or the world that you gained through meeting someone from another culture.
12. “Maybe one day we’ll grow weary of whining and celebrate the rain, the manna, the half-filled glass of water, the little gifts from heaven that make each day bearable. Instead of cloaking ourselves in the armor of pessimism, maybe we’ll concede that we are who we are: capricious, unfortunate, wonderful, delicate, alive. Forgiven.”
— Mark Collins in On the Road to Emmaus
To practice this thought: The next time you start complaining about your lot in life, don’t listen.
13. “My wife and I periodically try to engage in a ‘complaining fast.’ For a week at a time, we try to refrain from all whining and complaining... Doing so makes it easier to become conscious of things that are going well in your life.”
— Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in The Book of Jewish Values
To practice this thought: Commit to a complaining fast in your household.
14. “God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites, so that you have two wings to fly, not one.”
— Rumi, quoted in Love Is a Fire by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
To practice this thought: If you really want to soar in the spiritual life, be thankful for the opposites within you.
15. “Thank God for days filled with nothing much at all. Nothing much is more than enough.”
— Steven Z. Leder in The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things
To practice this thought: Set aside an hour or two to do nothing much.
16. “On the day of their marriage, Yvonne and her husband were given a rare and gorgeous antique Hopi vase. After the ceremony someone carried the vase on a tray with too many other things, and dropped it. The bowl broke into many pieces. ‘A perfect moment,’ she smiled. ‘The bowl was only whole for the ceremony.’”
— Sue Bender in Everyday Sacred
To practice this thought: Banish the word "mine" from your vocabulary.
17. “Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky. I join my hands in thanks for the many wonders of life; for having twenty-four brand-new hours before me.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Call Me by My True Names
To practice this thought: Make this a daily ritual.
18. “When we work well, a Sabbath mood rests on our day, and finds it good.”
— Wendell Berry in A Timbered Choir
To practice this thought: Honor your Sabbath moods any time they occur.
19. “I will not go back there. I will not sit on the back step and see the sky take on its color, or walk over the hill for the first glimpse of gray-blue water, or watch from my desk the locust leaves turn over in the wind. My time in the house was a gift, a gift that wasn’t meant to last. I should never have called it mine. But the house, in its embrace of me, seduced me. Like many an overeager lover, I misheard its whispers. I got the breathy ‘I am yours...,’ but missed the final syllables, provisional and hesitating: ‘...only for a while.’”
— Mary Gordon in Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity
To practice this thought: Recall a place in your life that you have had to let go of, and then express gratitude for what it was to you for a while.
20. “Gratitude is the state of mind of thankfulness. As it is cultivated, we experience an increase in our ‘sympathetic joy,’ our happiness at another’s happiness. Just as in the cultivation of compassion, we may feel the pain of others, so we may begin to feel their joy as well. And it doesn’t stop there.”
— Stephen Levine in A Year to Live
To practice this thought: Pay attention to someone else’s joy, and give thanks for that which brings them joy.
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least twenty minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready, end by praying out loud, either a prayer of your own creation or the following: “O Holy One, thank you. Amen.”