Revolutionary Gratitude

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11.20.16 The Garden Church
Rev. Anna Woofenden
Scripture: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 1:68-79

Messenger
by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Fifth-century monk Nilus of Ancyra wrote, “We should remain within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasures of life, there is no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to which exceeds the necessary.”

I think what he was really talking about here was Facebook ads. My nemesis. Here I am, just innocently trying to distract myself from the sermon I am trying to write with “just a quick scroll through the Facebook feed” when what do I see but this beautiful burgundy sweater, long and flowing, with these beautiful little knit patterns in it. “Ooo, I like that!” I think, and then I have to click on it, and start looking through the website… “That looks beautiful!” “And that.” “I need more winter sweaters.” “I don’t have something like that.”

I almost start to put something in the cart, when I remember. I’m supposed to be writing a sermon on revolutionary gratitude. I’m supposed to be articulating the ideas that have been present with me all week about how I believe gratitude can actually be the antidote to excessive consumerism, greed, and discontent. How I believe that taking on gratitude as a spiritual practice can actually change how we engage the world and change the world.

So I stopped. And went back to my Word document. And wrote this paragraph. And then I went to my bedroom and started folding laundry. And specifically noting all the sweaters I have. Not quite exactly that maroon flowery one, but plenty. And even one that IS maroon, and is pretty flowery. And they are warm and they are nice. And so I said, “Thank you for them.” And then I started to think about my friends and neighbors who don’t have sweaters. Or closets to put them in. And then I started making a pile, a stack of sweaters that I could pass on to others.

This time of Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to explore gratitude, and explore the words we use and the attitudes we have as we look at our own expressions of gratitude, and commit or recommit to a practice of gratitude.

Because we see, when we actively practice gratitude, things change in us, and around us. Our very orientation to the world—how we see people and situations—changes. I’m even told that our brain chemistry changes. As we actively practice a life of gratitude, we start to notice things differently; we connect with people and the world with more attentive and useful eyes.

Practicing gratitude actually replaces the “I want, I want, I want,” with, “I am grateful, I have enough.”

And then what if we made it a personal habit to replace anger and resentment with gratitude? Or replace disappointment and grumpiness with gratitude?

This week I had an interaction with a loved one and a conflict came up. Later that evening I was texting with a friend and sorting through my reactions and realizing why my buttons had been pushed. As my heart softened I found myself texting, “I am so grateful to have a person I love with whom I can work through these kinds of conflicts with.” The next day when the loved one and I had a further conversation, the whole tone had shifted. As we listened deeply, I found myself no longer wrapped up in getting my own specific needs fulfilled, but instead trying to understand my loved one and see how I could care for them, as a response to my gratitude for being in relationship together and be able to care for one another.

The practice of gratitude takes us out beyond ourselves, to look around at others and show us how to care for one another.

Every week at the Garden Church, right before we share together in our Community Meal, we sing our blessing song:

There is enough, there is enough, there is enough, enough and some to share.

My friend Kerri Meyer wrote this song and I asked her why she wrote it and she told me this: “I wrote ‘There is Enough’ out of my heart’s response to reading the works of Wendell Berry and out of my own craving for a theology of abundance. These are the words of Creation, of Elijah visiting the woman, of the loaves and fishes, of the community of Acts, and I think of the Kingdom of God.

I want to be generous, so I have to believe these words. I want to be able to receive generosity, so I have to believe these words. ‘There is enough and some to share’ is the opposite of what the idol of capitalism demands we believe. It’s the motto of another possible world.”

There is enough, gratitude for what is—it’s the motto of another possible world. It’s that kingdom of heaven. It’s that promise of the light to those who sit in darkness—the guidance of our feet in the way of peace.

In this possibility of another world, we don’t think of ourselves first and put all of our energy and resources into amassing wealth and fulfilling our own desires. Yes, we take care of our bodies and our minds, an essential foundation, and as we do, we practice gratitude.

Emanuel Swedenborg reminds us that yes,
“We need to provide food and clothing for our bodies. This is a first and primary goal. But we do this so that we may have sound minds in sound bodies. We need to provide food for the mind as well, such things as relate to intelligence and wisdom, so that our minds may be in a state to serve God. If we do these things, we provide for our own good to eternity. We must provide for ourselves, yet not for ourselves.”

Practicing gratitude does not take away the reality that every one of us needs basic care for our bodies and our minds. Practicing gratitude in fact, reminds all of us that we are responsible to and for each other to have those foundational needs met.

And as we practice gratitude, we find ourselves looking outward from our own fear and scarcity. We can begin to look out to the world around us and see the needs of others—see how we are all connected and intertwined with each other.

And we can see that God is always breaking through the cracks and raising us up, like that righteous branch, raising us up together, intertwined with each other.

The kingdom of heaven, that possibility of another world, is among us, and with us, and we have to work for where it is not. Because every human being created belongs to God and we belong to each other. And as God provides for us collectively, there always is enough—enough and some to share.

Jesus’ act in the paschal mystery was thanksgiving: Eucharist. Which literally means “thanksgiving.” When Jesus gathered his friends and followers around that table in the upper room, he took bread blessed it and broke it and gave thanks. And he took the cup and poured it and blessed and offered thanksgiving and passed it. And then said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Revolutionary gratitude isn’t the gratitude one practices or offers alone, but what one does with others. We can both remind each other of the power of gratitude and be lifted up, be fed when we share the Eucharist, the thanksgiving, together.

And so now, I want to invite us into a time of thanksgiving, of doing the spiritual practice of gratitude right here, right now together. Because what better way to start a habit than right here, right now?

Turn to your neighbor and take turns, back and forth, naming what you are grateful for. And we’re going to do this for a few minutes. Long enough that at some point you’re going to have to pause and really think about it for a moment. You might have to start looking past the obvious things and start finding gratitude in “the conflict I had with my loved one” or the struggle I’m having to keep showing up.

As you share, notice how your own experience of your life and things around you shift. And at the end, you’ll have an opportunity to share a bit with other neighbors around you about what the practice of gratitude felt like.

So this is a practice.

And when we are in this spiritual practice, and we all fall and get up again multiple times a day, we might notice that good is being brought out of the difficult things. We might notice that we stopped long enough to engage another person, and something beautiful came out of the connection. We might have a difficult situation come up in our lives, and rather than being sure that it’s all helpless, we might open up to there being redemption in it, through the neighbor who shows up to help change the tire, to the emotional muscles that are stretched and exercised when we’re dealing with an illness or the illness of a loved one.

Having a practice of gratitude doesn’t mean that suddenly our lives are all peachy and we never have hard days. And having a practice of gratitude doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to the pain and brokenness in the world.

No, I think having a practice of gratitude is having a practice of paying attention…paying attention to where love is breaking through, paying attention to where we are called to see differently, to be instruments of compassion, to be curious and to be the vessels by which God infuses more love into the world.

Edwin Arlington Robinson said, “There are two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.”

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we will see our own lives differently, we’ll see the gifts and how we’re being taken care of, in little ways and big. We’ll pause and notice the colors in the sky, the rich flavors of the food in our mouths and the light in each other’s eyes.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see the people around us differently, we see how we might have not noticed privilege and inequality that we’d been taking for granted, we’ll see the people in front of us, not as other or different, but as fellow-human-beings, all on the path together, hungry for some more love and compassion in the world.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see the world differently. We see the world not as a place to fear or shirk from, but as a precious human family, with it’s deeply broken and cracked places, and always with flowers urging and pushing to grow out of the cracks.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we may just find that we are noticing more, noticing the goodness, and noticing where we can be bearers of that goodness, compassion, and light.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see that by the tender mercy, dawn will break. And we will say thank you. Amen.

Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice

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The Garden Church, San Pedro, CA
Rev. Anna Woofenden
11/22/15

Gratitude is a funny thing really. We likely can all get on board with the general idea; it’s good to be grateful. This time of Thanksgiving we get prompted all over the place to be “thankful” to “give thanks.” It gets us thinking about it, which is excellent, and then it can invite us in to looking at gratitude more deeply, and looking at what it actually mean in our lives, and how engaging a life of gratitude can actually change us.

I’ve noticed something in myself when it comes to words of gratitude—sometimes it’s authentic and genuine, and sometimes it’s totally a cover up. Cover up for something that’s really hard and painful and I don’t really want to deal with. “Yup, yup, that hard painful thing happened, but I shouldn’t complain, I know I should be grateful for.” Rather than feeling the pain or the sadness, I find myself using words like “I should be grateful” and some other cover up. Maybe you use it to smooth over conversations we need to have, or to brush off acknowledging vulnerability “I’m grateful I’m not that person, or group of people, or life situation.

This time of Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to explore gratitude, and explore the words we use as we look at our own expressions of gratitude, and commit or recommit to a practice of gratitude.

Because when we actively practice gratitude, things change in us, and around us. Our orientation to the world, how we see people and situations changes, I’m told even our brain chemistry changes. As we actively practice a life of gratitude, we start to notice things differently; we connect with people and the world with more attentive eyes.

In my tradition we talk about how God is always drawing good out of any situation. That God is an expansive, loving, God, a God who values our freedom, a God who does not cause the pain, the broken places, the sadness, these come from our individual and collective actions and choices as a world, but God is always present in all of it, and as the source and force of love and goodness in the world. And that as the Source of this love and goodness, this force is always drawing us to bring healing and hope, reconciliation and goodness out of every situation and in the daily actions of life.

So what if we use Gratitude not as a Band-Aid or a Thanksgiving tag line, but actually a deep spiritual practice.

A deep spiritual practice that taps into God’s goodness ever moving and loving and showing up and surprising us in the world.

And when we are in this spiritual practice, and we all fall and get up again multiple times a day, we might notice that good is, being brought out of the difficult things. We might notice that we stopped long enough to engage another person and something beautiful came out of the connection. We might have a difficult situation come up in our lives and rather than being sure that it’s all helpless, we might open up to there being redemption in it, through the neighbor who shows up to help change the tire, to the emotional muscles that are stretched and exercised when we’re dealing with an illness or the illness of a loved one.

Having a practice of gratitude doesn’t mean that suddenly our lives are all peachy and we never have hard days. And having a practice of gratitude doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to the pain and brokenness in the world.

No, I think having a practice of gratitude is having a practice of paying attention…paying attention to where love is breaking through, paying attention to where we are called to see differently, to be instruments of compassion, to be curious and to be the vessels by which God infuses more love into the world.

Edwin Arlington Robinson said, “There are two kinds of gratitude:  The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.” 

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we will see our own lives differently, we’ll see the gifts and how we’re being taken care of, in little ways and big. We’ll pause and notice the colors in the sky, the rich flavors of the food in our mouths and the light in each other’s eyes.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see the people around us differently, we see how we might have not noticed privilege and inequality that we’d been taking for granted, we’ll see the people in front of us, not as other or different, but as fellow-human-beings, all on the path together, hungry for some more love and compassion in the world.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see the world differently. We see the world not as a place to fear or shirk from, but as a precious human family, with it’s deeply broken and cracked places, and always with flowers urging and pushing to grow out of the cracks.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we may just find that we are noticing more, noticing the goodness, and noticing where we can be bearers of that goodness, compassion and light.

When we take on gratitude as a spiritual practice, we see the face of God.

Amen.

 

#GivingTuesday at the Garden Church

We are committed to feeding people…in mind, body, and spirit. 

On this #GivingTuesday, will you join us in making a difference in the world as we re-imagine church and engage in innovative ways to bring more heaven, here on earth?
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Online fundraising for Seed Money for The Garden Church

Dear Garden Church friends and family!

Part of re-imagining church is re-imagining our funding sources and methods. The way the world works is changing, and the funding for new expressions of church aren’t primarily coming from our institutions any more.

Instead, we have the opportunity to build a community of support made up of individuals who share our passion. We believe there are people all over who want to be part of doing something to make the world a better place—perhaps including you!

We need to raise $2,000 a month for the next year from our Cultivation Team. That’s 200 people giving $10 a month, or 100 giving $20, or 50 people giving $40—you get the idea. Give what amount is right for you, monthly for the next year, and be an essential part of the team that is re-imagining church and bringing more heaven here on earth. (If you’re wondering why the bar graph says more, that’s because razzo counts one-time and monthly gifts as the same. We are recieving and appreciating both! And our overarching goal is $2,000 in monthly pledges).

We are so incredibly grateful for the stories and pledges that have been rolling in from across the world over the past few weeks as people are joining the team.

Today is the last day of our three-week crowd-funding goal. Will you join with others from across the globe to ensure the Garden Church has the support it needs to grow and thrive serve in this start-up season?

With deep gratitude and joy for all that is and for all that is to come,
Anna and the Garden Church team

“With every tree, there’s this incredible network of beauty. There are the limbs, the branches. And we see all of this springing up from the ground. Also, underneath the ground, there is an equally intricate network of roots, of support.  This system that keeps the tree upheld…I decided that I want to be a part of it. I want to be a part of growing something new, growing something beautiful. ”  -Carol Howard Merritt, Author 

Watch Carol share more: 

Join us in this work today! 

Twenty-Seven Beds

Part of the Pilgrimage Summer 2013 Series

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Twenty-Seven. That’s how many times I’ve changed where I laid my head at night since I moved out of my Indiana apartment in May. Twenty-seven times I’ve picked up my toothbrush and put it back in its travel bag. Twenty-seven times I’ve put my head on a pillow, knowing that in day or week, I would be in another place.

Earlier this week, I settled my head on my own pillow, with my very own white striped pillow case, pulled the matching deep red comforter that I made back in my Colorado days up to my chin and breathed into new space: one that is mine for this next season. Unpacking in my new home, my mind flies back over these twenty-seven beds, and the places and days spent between them. It’s been a summer overflowing with rich experiences, learning, growth, travel, and change.

I’m reaching for a “concluding blog post.” One where I tie everything together, tracing those threads back through each location and tie up each theme in a nice crisp bow.

Nope. Not going to happen. And it wouldn’t be honest to the pilgrimage to try. The tangled, interconnected, still processing, led by a Force greater than the journey, energy resists being wrapped up and captured in a few pithy phrases.

But here’s what I can tell you.

I can tell you that I have lived these months of being a pilgrim fully.

I can tell you that the Divine had themes woven throughout my travels that changed me.

I can tell you than I laughed more than usual and that I’d like to continue that trend.

I can tell you that nature and I reconnected and have taken up our old love affair with a passionate commitment.

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I can tell you how there are beautiful and fascinating people everywhere and potential for human connection around every corner.

I can tell you that coming home to a place that has been a grounding space for years is sweeter than ever.

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I can tell you that new friends who you swap stories with fresh energy are gifts, and that old friends who know your story because they were there are blessings.

I can tell you about my time in various Swedenborgian communities and how connecting with my faith heritages has strengthened and formed my future ministry.

I can tell you how I love children and how spending time with them feeds my soul.
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I can tell you how exploring a city and finding out of the way coffee shops and secret gardens is one of my favorite ways to spend a day. Especially days when you do it with two good friends and you climb a tree and visit while swinging your legs in the air and having deep theological conversations. 

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I can tell you that the life of a nomadic pilgrim is humbling when you’re relying on others for your “homes.”  And how I know that my experience of this is incredibly privileged.

I can tell you about that privilege and how I always knew where I would sleep and I thought a lot about the people who cannot say that. Especially one day when I was sick in the UK and we had to move and all I wanted to do was be home in my own bed and I began reflecting on those who are sick and don’t have their own bed, until my prof told me that I really didn’t have to be doing theological reflection all the time and to have some more vitamin C and water.


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I can tell you than I see God in more places now than I used to, especially as I hunt for God’s image in the faces of people. 

I can tell you that I trust the Divine leading more now than I did three months ago and that doors keep opening and my trust and delight is growing.

I can tell you about how I’ve stood and preached when there were no words to say and that God gave the words.

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I can tell you that the curved balls came, as they always do, and that with them always came the breath, or laughter, or strength, or help that was needed.

I can tell you that some of the best conversations happen over a drink in the evenings after the meetings, or workshop, or class.

I can tell you where the yarn shops are in a number of cities in the US and UK. And about how I met the sheep that gave me this yarn.

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I can tell you how long it takes to fly and drive and walk all sorts of places. And I can brag that my sense of direction has improved with dedicated attention.

I could wax on and on, worthy of commercial or two, about the virtue of my Sherpani carry-on suitcase, my Haiku purse, my Jambu shoes and my NorthFace jacket, four items that accompanied me without exception throughout all my travels.  And I could tell you about the women who tried to steal my shoes at camp because they loved them so much.
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And I can tell you about how I found home in the few moments of intention as I entered each space, and how my mini art and spiritual practice kit was pullout out all over the world and how I kept crocheting that prayer shawl.

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And I can tell you about how I appreciate and fought my commitment to blog throughout the trip and how much your comments and accompaniment brought companionship and joy.

So that’s what I can tell you today. And the steps of the pilgrim continue.

It’s about seeing beauty and humanity everywhere, feeling the Divine infused in all things, and showing up to what is in front of us. Here’s to the continued pilgrimage called life. 

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Loosening Threads

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Part of the Pilgrimage Summer 2013 series.

In order to go on pilgrimage, you must leave somewhere. Be it physical or metaphysical, in order to go, you must leave. And in leaving, that place becomes part of your journey.

I have begun weaving the stitches (crocheting actually, but that doesn’t sound nearly as poetic) into the pilgrimage prayer shawl. As I have final visits, pack boxes, sit in a classroom one more time I stitch in snapshots.

I try to pay attention as I drive these street that have become so familiar to me over the past few years.

The Milk House mural at the end of my ally. Covering a whole wall with the words, “The Most Convenient Connivence Store in town.”

The cherry blossoms and magnolias, the iris and daffodils, overflowing and reminding me this is my third spring here.

The way the path curves around under the bridge in the gorge, and my favorite tree root, twisted into a seat, poised on the edge, leaning over the stream.

The red gate through which I walk for the healing of acupuncture and the wisdom of spiritual direction.

The walk to school, where to cross, through two alleys, one jaywalk on a quiet day. And the crosswalk where I continue my delicate battle of teaching Richmond drivers about pedestrian rights without getting run over.

Clear-Creek Co-Op and Roscoes Coffee shop, Firehouse BBQ with their pulled pork nachos that are always lunch AND dinner. Incomparable in size however (though far superior in ingredients and taste) to the nachos from Joe’s Pizza which come an a full-sized round pizza pan, loaded with chips, chopped pepperoni, ham and melted cheese. There was the night Hoot and I sang there, and the night we broke out in a polka. And Pete’s Corner Cafe where I had lunch with Carole today, as we have many times before, eating the burger with no bun and hearing from Pete about the newest recipe he’s trying.

People’s faces fly by my eyes as I think of the rich conversations over theses tables, cup of tea or glass of wine in hand.

Threads of this life in this town.
Do I un-weave them?
Or simply loosen their daily hold?
I thank them for being the fabric of a season.

Gratitude

“Gratitude is an emotion of connectedness, which reminds us we are part of a larger universe with all living things.”
-Melanie A. Greenberg


For breath and sunshine,
Faces I know and love
And the many I don’t know,
but love as part of the human family.
For mountains and oceans,
Kindness, compassion, and consciousness.
For the reminder that we are all connected in the One.
I am grateful.