In the 1980s, GPS came out into public use. The acronym stands for “global positioning system.” As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, and the launch of Black Friday sales on Thursday, and Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday… we hear Hannah’s lament. That gut wrenching prayer deep in the soul that has been lifted time and time again on millions of lips. That prayer so painful, so real, so embodied that observers scoff: “She is drunk. A spectacle.” A prayer which arises out of the “pouring out of (one’s) soul before God” (1 Sam. 1:15b, NRSV). That great anxiety, that horrendous exasperation, that barrenness… which is physical, mental, soul draining, relational emptiness.
We need a “global positioning system.” Shared communal joy. From our extended family and friends, to our communities, country, and world. We need a path forward that repositions us away from the gap between that which divides us, and points us to a place of love. Peace. Hope. Joy. Gratitude. Diana Butler Bass asks a tough question: “…how can we reclaim gratitude in our communal settings?” How do we reclaim communal joy? How do we reclaim shared communal joy when we are barren… spiritually barren… alone and lost in a violent, bully-filled, knocked-down-low, fear packed world?
Encountering Mark’s gospel, we hear Jesus’ words. Each synoptic gospel—Mark, Mathew, and Luke—was written for a specific community. An oral tradition written down in a particular context. Mark’s book was the first written, around 70-72 C.E., as the Jewish community rose up against the Romans (and it is somewhat unclear as to whether or not the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed when Mark was written). A “GPS” of sorts for the 1st century followers of Jesus. Each synoptic gospel has an apocalyptic, end of the world story, and Mark’s is the shortest. In our desperation we look about for signs, the light, the hope that things will get better. Yet Jesus cautions that we cannot predict how soon it is going to get better based on how bad the world is around us. But know… that is will happen.
But… how? Over the past 8 weeks we have been focusing on the practice of gratitude, and how our faith, science, and history point to ways in which the spiritual practice of gratitude can be transformative on both the level of the individual… you… I… and a wider communal level.
How many of you use some sort of planner, whether it is a paper and or digital mode for organizing your “to do” list? Decades ago, when I worked as a manager, I was trained on how to use the Franklin Covey system. In this system, you begin each day creating your “to do” list. There are all sorts of steps in how to prioritize each item, but at the top of each day you are supposed to write down “P & S,” with the “P & S” standing for “planning and solitude.” I have been doing this nearly every day for over 25 years. The power in this practice is that after you have written down “P & S” at the top of the page and created your “to do” list, you get to check off “planning and solitude.” That affirmation that “woo hoo,” you have already completed something today, and that one thing was your highest priority.
This year, the practice has changed… for me… dramatically. In May, I heard Diana Butler Bass at a conference, and listened to her overview of her book that had just come out, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. I had gotten into a rhythm in the life of the church, embracing Sabbath (or a day off) on Mondays, and then coming onto the grounds of the building on Tuesdays and beginning to work on the sermon (which I joyfully call “sermonating”). Every Tuesday I block off on my calendar from 8 – 10 am for this planning. While this does not always work, and it is not unusual to be “called elsewhere” on a Tuesday morning, when it does happen I am greatly appreciative of the time. Sometimes I sit outside on the patio, or deck. On rainy, or chilly, or soon to be snowy, mornings, I sit here—in the sanctuary. Planning and sermonating.
Then, in June, motivated by Bass’ book, I added the practice of gratitude to the morning. I grab my gratitude notebook, some thank you cards, and the bible readings. I added “G” to the top of my planner for “gratitude,” to purposefully make time for moments of gratefulness.
And there is was. Bam. I shifted the word “planning” to “prayer.” Now each Tuesday begins with gratitude. Prayer. Sermonating. My own, personal, GPS for each week. Now, at the top of each Tuesday’s “to do” list I jot down “GP & S”: Gratitude, prayer and sermonating.
Yet I cannot help but look around. To see the spectacles around us. The great anxiety, that horrendous exasperation, the barrenness… the soul draining, relational emptiness. Bass writes about this “Public ingratitude (which) threatens rather than invites, isolates rather than unites. As a result, we lose the experience of shared communal joy.”
We need for our world’s “global positioning system” to be realigned. We need shared communal joy. From our extended family and friends, to our communities, country, and world. We need a path forward that positions us away from the gap between that which divides us, and points us to a place of love. Peace. Hope. Joy. Bass asserts, “Gratitude calls us to sit together, to imagine the world as a table of hospitality. To feed one another. To feast, to dance in the streets. To know and celebrate abundance.” So “…how can we reclaim gratitude in our communal settings? If gratitude is contagious, it is our duty to spread (gratitude)… More than anything else… I want to reclaim Thanksgiving as our major festival of gratefulness. In the United States, Thanksgiving currently suffers from two major problems, it is relegated to the status of a private family celebration and it serves as the commercial kick-off for Christmas…”
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, and the launch of Black Friday sales on Thursday, and Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday… we again hear Hannah’s lament. That gut wrenching prayer deep in the soul that has been lifted time and time again on millions of lips. The Rev. Dr. Cameron Trimble says that, “We are living in unsustainable ways, running on the treadmill of an unsustainable system, consuming our beautiful planet at unsustainable rates. If ever there was a moment for a new cultural vision spoken and modeled by a new generation of leaders, this is that moment…”
We need a shift. A new GPS. A grateful, prayerful… something. Now, I know that we all do not have sermons to write every week, so your “S” word will be different than mine, but what if we were each a part of that shift. The repositioning. Our own, communal, GPS. I believe that gratitude is important. I believe that prayer is important. But what “S” would you add to the change that is needed in the world?
Those gathered in worship shared the following words:
Serenity, service, strength, stewardship, safety, selflessness, sympathy, solitude, study, sleep, self-care, social, spiritual, songs, sanity, smiles, scripture, and simplicity.
May this be our “global positioning system”: Gratitude. Prayer. These many “S” words we have shared. May this be our spiritual practice: Shared communal joy. With our extended family and friends, in our communities, our country, and our world. May we find a path towards a new cultural vision. One overflowing with God’s abundance.
Reflection offered on 1 Samuel 1:4-20 and Mark 13:1-8 November 18, 2018
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. 128.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. 127.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. 186.
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018. 186. 129.
 Trimble, Cameron, Rev. FaceBook. November 14, 2018.