We have a new nightly ritual in our house. Emma, my delightful and precocious 4-year-old, climbs into her toddler bed. I lay on the floor next to her, my head resting semi-comfortably on a lumpy …
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We have a new nightly ritual in our house. Emma, my delightful and precocious 4-year-old, climbs into her toddler bed. I lay on the floor next to her, my head resting semi-comfortably on a lumpy array of stuffed animals. Once Emma settles a bit, she’ll reach out for my hand and ask, “Daddy, who were you thankful for today?”
One after another after another, we rattle off family and friends and teachers and toys until nothing is left but an extended period of silence that’s usually followed by faint snoring. It’s a telltale sign that Emma is, at long last, asleep.
As I tiptoe out of her room, delicately avoiding the creaks in the floor, I give thanks that, if only for a few minutes, Emma has brought my attention to gratitude.
‘Tis the season.
Many of us who gather with family and friends this week will think through similar litanies of gratitude. For some it may be health and happiness. Or loved ones who’ve come from near and far. For others it’s safe travels or a decent job. Or maybe it’s the resilience of just being alive — still standing, still here — in what has been an otherwise difficult year.
When I think about gratitude, I can’t help but think about religious historian Diana Butler Bass. She literally wrote the book on gratitude. It’s called “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” In the book, she ponders the systems of gratitude in which we find ourselves. She invites the reader to consider whether our gratitude is out of obligation or in response to abundance. In other words, does our sense of thankfulness come because of a perceived debt to someone or something, or is it rooted in a recognition of the gifts all around us?
The author’s invitation is to move toward gratitude out of abundance. I believe this is well timed for us in our Chatham County community. Because often, our thinking around gratitude and thankfulness (anytime, but especially in this season) is personal and individual. It’s about what I am thankful for. It’s about the gifts I’ve been given. Maybe we keep personal gratitude journals — which is a good thing! But I wonder what it would look like for us to also practice communal gratitude. What does a community rooted in gratitude look like? How might we become a collective people of thankfulness?
Perhaps this move looks like recognizing the abundance of gifts in each and every person — your next-door neighbor or the friend you adore but maybe just in small doses or the uncle whose views of the world seem a bit, er, wonky — seeing them all as vital parts of the whole, each one with something to offer you, our community, and the world.
Maybe it looks like sharing our gifts, the things with which we have been blessed, to ensure that all have enough.
Or perhaps it’s living in such a way that all have belonging in the community, a place at the table, a part in the song, and an existence that is celebrated.
Our community could use this, right?
I have the great joy of serving as the pastor for a new-ish movement here in Chatham County called The Local Church. When we began a couple years ago, we made a conscious decision to begin with small gatherings in homes around tables for a simple meal and spiritual conversation. We call these gatherings Local Tables. It’s how the Christian church began generations ago (see Acts 2), and we believe it’s how our movement continues here and now.
As we’ve grown, the table has remained central. Not only do we continue to gather in new homes around different tables, but we also gather around a table every Sunday morning to receive Holy Communion. It’s the central act of our worship life together. The table is vitally important.
And that’s because, I believe, it’s around these tables where we can become a community of gratitude. It’s why Jesus did his best work around tables — eating with the rich and poor, sinners and tax collectors, the weary, worn, and outcast. What Jesus knew, and we know, too, is that community is rooted in relationship. Around tables, enemies become friends. Hatred becomes understanding. Bitterness becomes hope. Fear becomes love.
When we taste these first fruits of relationship, swapping stories and sharing lives, we might come to realize the abundance of blessing all around us in food and heart and soul and neighbor.
Perhaps this is what it looks like to become a community of gratitude. A collective of thankfulness. Could it begin around your table? Maybe start with a question.
In the words of Emma, “Who were you thankful for today?”
The Rev. D. Brent Levy is pastor of The Local Church: A Community of Christ United Methodist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.