By: Steve Krout
I was recently reading Christine Pohl’s “Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustains Us,” and in the first few chapters she writes extensively about gratitude. It seems like ever since I read those chapters, I keep coming across that word – gratitude. For example, on Monday evening, I found myself reading a Washington Post article about the books that helped Hillary Clinton cope after the end of the election in 2016. One of those books was Henri Nouwen’s “The Prodigal Son.” They pulled a paragraph from the book that began, “I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment.” Knowing that we have several of Nouwen’s books in the library, I went looking for “The Prodigal Son.” I didn’t find it but I pulled out another book of his – “Can You Drink the Cup?”- and I found a handwritten note in the front that read,
In gratitude, friendship
Gratitude is such an important part of life. The Psalmist in today’s reading proclaims, “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart.” Like the poet from long ago, we have many things to be thankful for. I want to go over 3 ways we express our gratitude: in presence, in word, and in action.
We begin our mornings by entering the chapel in silence. Communally, we sit with God. We are grateful for God not necessarily because of what he does but because of who he is: He is Good, He is Love. God is our source of life. This is about making God the center. We listen. We set our hearts on the Lord. We do this through the whole day here. The bells ring at 10, 3, and 8 so that we may center ourselves in prayer. All of this, all of the prayer, the devotions, the pauses…they are all about being present with our great Love.
We sing songs of praise and we express our thanksgivings at the end of each meal and Gathered Worship service. I admit, for the first several months of my internship, I rarely sang at chapel. It wasn’t because I was being an old curmudgeon as some people sometimes claim that I am. I’m not a very good singer and well…this is a small chapel and sometimes there aren’t very many people in it. To be honest, the only way I know that I’m in tune is if Elizabeth looks over at me and smiles. And that doesn’t happen a lot. Over time, both the community and I have just accepted that I can’t carry a tune and so now I sing. There is something beautiful about expressing gratitude and praise through the communal singing.
In his Thanksgiving proclamation in 1963, President Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” This is so true. We sing praises to God “For the Beauty of the Earth.” To take care of our environment is to live by those words. We thank God for what we’ve been given and any abundance we may have. To give that abundance away to those in need, to the best of our ability, is to live by those words. We thank God for the tools and equipment we use to do our work. To take care of them is to live by those words. We thank God for this community, for each other…to love, to will the good of the whole, is to live by those words.
I close with this: gratitude leads to joy. And joy is such a beautiful thing. One of my heroes, the Bishop Robert Barron, talks a lot about leading with the beautiful when it comes to evangelizing the culture. Other than Taco Bell, is there anything more beautiful than a community of joyful people? I was talking to a former intern about prayer near the end of her internship. She told me that she appreciated the use of humor in our prayers here at Koinonia. With hearts full of gratitude and joy and bellies full of laughter…this is one of the ways we lead with the beautiful. But, things aren’t always lighthearted and fun. Sometimes life together can be tough as there may be hurt and misunderstandings . Thankful for the love, grace, and forgiveness bestowed on us by God, we bestow love, grace, and forgiveness on each other. That is truly beautiful and counter-cultural. As followers of Christ, we have something to offer that is desperately needed in this world. This is not only how we lead people to Christ…this is how we attract people to the communal way of life.
So, friends, be grateful. Be joyful. This is our calling.