Preparing for Worship – John Kelly, pastoral resident.
Between ice storms, I fit in a visit to California. Though I spent the majority of last week in Bakersfield for a wedding, I was also able to sneak down to Pasadena for a symposium hosted by my alma mater, Fuller Seminary. Teased out by a diverse group of theologians, psychologists and social scientists, this year’s theme, “The Science and Spirit of Gratitude,” seemed apt for the increasingly cynical cultural moment in which we find ourselves.
Across the sessions, psychologist Robert Emmons shared his findings about the emotional, physical, and even spiritual benefits of cultivating a practice of gratitude. It can help us celebrate the present, block toxic emotions, resist stress and even have a higher sense of self-worth.
Before you remember how difficult life can be and continue flipping through the rest of the Tapestry, I’ll clarify: Emmons warned against toxic positivity. He didn’t encourage attendees to lead others to smother any and all negative emotions or experiences; rather, he affirmed the value of life-giving practices that cultivate gratitude in the midst of such emotions and experiences.
Emmons offered a new, two-fold understanding of gratitude. First, gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. It recognizes that there are good things in the world — gifts and benefits we’re able to enjoy. The next aspect involves figuring out where any of this recognized goodness might come from — by way of friends, family or some higher power. To save you airfare and conference registration, I’ll boil it down for you: true gratitude necessitates a humble dependence on others.
Unlike chest-puffing pride, true gratitude recognizes that humans exist within an endlessly complex web of interdependence. Practices of gratitude, from end-of-day journaling to more intense disciplines, help us remember this sense of interrelatedness, even in the midst of personal, national or global chaos. These practices help us grow, so that we’re able to accept our whole lives — the good, the bad and the ugly — as gifts. Such practices help us perceive our day-to-days as invitations into transformative experiences of the unexpectedly selfless glory of God.
This morning, I invite you to reflect on all you have for which you can be grateful. Resist the urge to take full responsibility for your existence. Begin to count the ways others in our own community have enriched your life. As you prepare for worship, I invite you to commit again to practices that cultivate gratitude. If we could make such a commitment as a community, imagine the encouragement we could provide one another — the presence we could offer our broader communities! Glory be, indeed!