I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude this week. Thanksgiving being the holiday where we are almost forced to think about the things for which we give thanks and why, followed by Black Friday where it is expected that whatever we gave thanks for the day before, there can always be a newer, shinier, more expensive thing that will increase our gratitude ten-fold.
What does it mean to be grateful in a culture that seeks to distance us from ourselves, from others, and from life itself? What does gratitude look like when we are faced with tragedy, death, oppression, and destruction on all sides? How can we develop a consistent spirit of gratitude in our lives, while also fully acknowledging the things which we cannot abide and working to change them? These are just some of the questions that stuck like a turkey bone in the throat of my heart all day on Thursday.
This Thanksgiving was excellent, heartening, and just plain lovely. My gratitude for the day and for life in general is overflowing. This may seem antithetical given the state of the United States and the world. For the past several years my life consisted of one tragedy after another with seemingly no reprieve in sight. The death of my father, the loss of relationships and jobs, sexual assault, a near death experience following complications of a “routine” surgery, and finally the realization that my lifelong calling to ministry was going to look entirely different than I had ever imagined left me feeling lost, lonely, broken, and wholly lacking in gratitude or hope.
About a year ago I decided to try something different. Life had been inordinately difficult for so long that I believed it would never change, and then I realized that in order for life to change I had to actually believe in the possibility of that change. That meant looking for the things in my life for which I feel grateful.
So I approached Thanksgiving with the same spirit of gratitude that I’ve cultivated for the past year. Not that it’s easy mind you. I’m just as disheartened and worried as any other normal person at this point. There is so much of life that is unacceptable right now. It seems that there’s more to change at this moment in human history than for which to feel grateful. Even the holiday itself now functions with a pall over it. The specters of genocide and colonialism hang menacingly over the country and all our traditions. Those specters are even more haunting and visible right now as we look at Standing Rock, Flint, MI, or anywhere else that the powers of domination and death, of greed and hate hold sway.
Yet, every morning that I wake up I’m given a new opportunity to embody love, gratitude, care, and compassion. There is pain in the world, and I can help to heal it. There is lack in the world, I can foster abundance. There is so much hate and selfishness and fear. I can encourage the opposite, if I can see where love lives in the shadowed consciousness of our nation and within ourselves.
And so I am grateful. I am content, but I am not at rest. Gratitude and love take practice to develop, and even more work to propel into the world in any kind of concrete form. The work of love and gratitude is never done, but it is a labor easily undertaken with others who want to create the same.
This Thanksgiving I was more grateful than ever to be surrounded by a community of care. A community that honors the cultivation of the loving human self in its fullness and authenticity. This is a community that reminds me of the early Christians, gathering in hushed, secretive homes proclaiming a new gospel of inclusion and of love. One would assume that because my community is polyamorous and majorly queer it wouldn’t hold Christian values as sacred or in any way mirror the life of Jesus.
There I was on Thanksgiving, surrounded by chosen family who seemed to embody the qualities of Christ that stuck with me since my early years in Catholic Mass. They shared openly, loved with reckless abandoned, and welcomed all into the space. I am grateful for labyrinthine journey that’s led me to sacred community. And I am grateful for the breath in my lungs, the electricity of my brain, and the love in my heart that allows me to experience everyday as the unique gift that it is.