Gratitude as a spiritual discipline
Theological intern Amanda Holmes reflects on the spiritual discipline of gratitude and its connection to movements of justice.
As fall comes to a close, I have spent the month of November trying to focus on gratitude and thanksgiving, as many of us do during this season. We are instructed to be grateful and give thanks for that which is already in our lives, yet as we are living in unprecedented times when everything is so different from our traditions and gatherings, I’m finding it hard to be very thankful or have an “attitude of gratitude” throughout this month.
It’s hard to not focus on what’s been taken away from us rather than rejoicing in how we are continually being provided for. Yet throughout the Bible, we are called to “rejoice always…give thanks in all circumstances.” Sometimes things just really aren’t that great, and that is where gratitude as a spiritual discipline comes in.
Gratitude should never be expected or demanded, and while we are called to it through Scripture, it is a spiritual practice we should take on in joy, not out of obligation. Like all acts of discipline, gratitude takes daily practice and the more frequently we choose to engage with this spiritual practice, the easier it becomes. I find that if I start small, it makes it easier to see the big things.
Gratitude doesn’t have to be an overwhelming spiritual practice. There are no measures on what is too small to be grateful for. What are you grateful for in this moment? The fact that you woke up this morning? Your morning cup of coffee? The walk you’re going to take outside this afternoon? Your pet? Your community? By recognizing and giving thanks for even the smallest and seemingly insignificant of things, we are able to work our way up to the big things and see what we are accomplishing through the work that we are doing.
The great thing about gratitude is that it can be a personal or public spiritual practice. So, as we are all called into community with one another, when we aren’t feeling particularly grateful, we have the community to uplift us, to help us draw closer to God through praise and thanksgiving. Our community can offer gratitude on our behalf when we just don’t have it in us. It’s also helpful to take time to see gratitude as a sort of mini-Sabbath. Every time we engage in a practice of gratitude, we are taking time to resist the culture of “ok, ok, what’s next?” by celebrating and appreciating the progress we have made.
Making progress does not mean we have arrived or completed our work as social justice activists and community organizers, but we can pause to appreciate and be thankful for what has been accomplished and use that to reinvigorate our justice work.
Gratitude, when seen in this way, can provide spiritual empowerment to change the existing society. We are taking time to see how the Spirit has moved and is moving and through that recognizing and giving thanks for the Spirit as God’s guarantee that we are never left alone in the struggle for justice.