It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is already behind us. The leaves have fallen, the days have shortened, and all the sudden we find ourselves in Advent.
It is tempting and easy to launch ourselves into the spirit of Christmas, because who wouldn’t want to deck the halls and sing Silent Night? However, before Thanksgiving gets lost in the shuffle of Christmas magic, we wanted to take a moment to express our gratitude for both new experiences and traditions of old.
Two weeks ago, over Thanksgiving, our congregation gathered together in some new and meaningful ways.
One of those gatherings, was a community conversation with theologian and author, Diana Butler Bass. Diana spoke on her new book, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. Specifically, she focused on the gap between our desire to be grateful and our ability to behave gratefully. Most of us know that gratitude is good--good for our bodies and our spirits--but there is a gap between that desire and our behavior. For example, when asked, seventy-eight percent of Americans say that they feel a strong sense of gratitude on a weekly basis. And yet, another poll by the Public Religion Research Institute reports that the overall sentiments in America life are anxiety, nostalgia, and mistrust. All things that are at odds with gratitude!
The implications of this gap between desire and behavior are bigger than we realize, affecting both our personal and public lives.
Weaving together social science research, spiritual wisdom, and contemporary issues, Diana encouraged us toward a richer understanding and practice of gratitude. She offered wonderfully rich insights about the power of thankful living to change how we treat one another, and how we might transform our communities.
In addition to time spent with Diana Butler Bass, several in our community also participated in a new and meaningful faith experience.
Two days before Thanksgiving, people of faith from across the metroplex gathered at Congregation Shearith Israel for a worship service that celebrated music, sacred text, and reflections from a diversity of traditions. Over the past several weeks, as I worked alongside clergy and faith leaders from other houses of worship, it became clear that we all wish to be seated at a larger table together. And this service was a reflection of that desire for a more diverse community.
After the service, a member of our congregation remarked on how they had never spoken to a woman in a hijab before. And how they learned that the woman in the hijab came to the event so that she could introduce her family to people outside of their own cultural and religious circle. As innate it is for us to feel attracted to people who look and worship like us, it is also a part of who God created us to be that we would find beauty in people and places that are unfamiliar to us. For it is there we see a glimpse of God we had not known before. What a gift it is to find in this one city a diversity of faith traditions, for each tradition teaches us a myriad of ways of giving thanks and praise to God.
Along with gratitude for these new experiences, we also lift up gratitude for the history of this church. As many of you know, the very first worship service at Preston Hollow was held on Thanksgiving morning, many years ago. The building was still under construction, which meant there was no heat. Despite the cold, people bundled up in coats and scarves to gather together on Thanksgiving morning, thanking God for all that God had done.
Since that time, our community has come together every year on Thanksgiving, to remember the ways in which God has moved through and alongside this church. For many, this tradition has been an integral part of the holiday season.
I was able to experience the beauty of this tradition last year, and will always be grateful for that experience. However, due to the demand on our staff and physical space, this year was the first year that we were not able to host Thanksgiving morning worship.
Many of us will grieve the loss of that space together. However, I think you will agree, that the core desire of that gathering was to be in community. Thanksgiving worship provided a gathering for college students returning home. It provided all of us the opportunity to both honor the past and to celebrate the future of this church.
Thus, as we move forward into the advent season, we will continue to find opportunities to gather together in community. The college students will head to Montreat for the college conference. We will worship together, we will sing songs of our childhood, we will celebrate traditions such as Carolfest, and we will continue to come together in celebration for what the Spirit is doing in this space.
We hope you all had a beautiful Thanksgiving, and that you will have a spirit-filled and meaningful advent! Here’s to another year of gratitude together.
(with help from Rev. Sarah Johnson & Rev. Kathy Lee-Cornell!)