Notice when you say or someone near you says “Thank you.” Think of those two words as a signpost to the spiritual world.
~ Lewis Richmond in Work as a Spiritual Practice
For the past month I have enjoyed posts from various Facebook friends who decided to spend the 30 days before Thanksgiving actually giving thanks. Every night they post something about that day they are thankful for. One teacher friend has had “gratitude posts” ranging from “I’m thankful for the creative energy of my 5th graders!” to “I’m thankful for my husband who cooks dinner when I’m so tired I can barely walk through the front door.” (Oh, those 5th graders!) I love the idea of these daily posts, because it allows for an intentional, regular reflection about living gratefully.
Gratitude is a spiritual practice. It is a way of living and seeingthings that shapes our souls. Much like prayer, or alms giving, or devotional reading, gratitude practiced over a period of time can change the trajectory of our lives. This year, I invite you to participate in this practice with me. Starting on Thanksgiving Day and finishing up on Christmas Day, give some thought each day to something or someone you are grateful for. We have Gratitude Journals that I will give out at worship Sunday, November 24 (Thanksgiving Sunday). (Or you may call the Church Office at 650-369-0344 to request one.) They have spots for brief daily jottings of a word or a phrase, and some quotes and prayers to accompany us along the way. It doesn’t need to take much time, but done over a period of time, I hope this simple practice will open our hearts more fully to the incredible gifts God gives us, and help us to be more fully present to our own lives.
David Stendl-Rast writes:
“Gratitude is… more than a feeling, a virtue, or an experience; gratitude emerges as an attitude we can freely choose in order to create a better life for ourselves and for others.”
(Words of Gratitude)
With Thanksgiving as our springboard and Christmas as our goal, may this journey take us to new depths of grateful living, and may we reflect that to all we see and in all we do.
One of our most valued ministries here at FCC is the Hillcrest Bible Ministry. For the past 25+ years, a group of FCC folks has gone up to Hillcrest Juvenile Detention for bible study, discussion and prayer. About three years ago, we got the idea to update the bibles to a more contemporary, easy to read version (Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”) and found, much to our delight, that the teenagers we met with were beginning to ask to keep the bibles we brought. So we put out a call to the congregation. You responded so that we could buy a case of backpack size bibles to give to any boy (or staff person) who asked. As you know, we quickly ran out of that first shipment, and we have been re-ordering those little brown bibles ever since.
I have to admit: the enthusiasm for these bibles surprised me. It’s not particularly hip to read the bible, and Lord knows there are too many people who have used the bible to hurt rather than heal. In the hands of some, the “Good Book” becomes a weapon for judgment and fear and control, and its misuse makes it tempting to toss the whole thing out. A bunch of stuff written by a bunch of people thousands of years ago.
And yet. There we go, lugging our bags stuffed with bibles up the hill to Hillcrest, only to have the bags significantly lightened on our way home. Something about that book speaks beyond the cultural, societal mix in which we find ourselves. Something about that book continues to inspire, and comfort, and challenge in ways we can’t predict. When we read it together, we find the link to our past, as we share words that have shaped people for generation upon generation. When we read it together, we run into thoughts and feelings and teachings that we question and ponder, and that link us to our future. It is a book filled with the stories of women and men who thought they knew about God, found out they didn’t, and then found their way home. It’s a book that is filled with stories of imperfection, misunderstanding, and forgiveness. Perhaps that is why boys trying to make sense of lives already touched by trauma find this little book appealing. When they read the stories of other people who have messed up and then moved on to live fuller, happier lives, they can glimpse themselves – as loved, forgiven and whole.
Every time we give a bible away, it goes with a prayer: that each one be a gateway to a more loving relationship with God, and an invitation to live more openly, more questioningly, and with greater hope. Thank you to all who give to our bible fund. It makes a difference.
On October 14, 2013, the Medal of Honor was given to Captain William Swenson. The Medal honors the actions he took on Sept. 8, 2009, in the midst of a battle in Eastern Afghanistan. Because one of the medevac helicopter personnel had a video camera attached to his helmet, the world was able to catch a glimpse of what happened that day.
As part of a group made up of both U.S. soldiers and Afghan troops, Swenson was on his way through the Genjgal Valley to meet with Afghan elders at a nearby village. Unexpectedly they found themselves under fire from Taliban fighters on the ridge above them. The fighting was intense and the casualties grew. Capt. Swenson called for help, and the medical evacuation team was sent in by helicopter. From the medevac video taken as they neared the site of the battle, you can see a man stand up, in the line of fire, with a red blanket, signaling to the pilot. As the helicopter landed, the same man, William Swenson, picked up a wounded soldier, and with the help of another comrade, carried him to the waiting medical team. As he settled him in, and just before he went back into battle to continue his rescue efforts, Swenson did something else: he leaned in and kissed the wounded soldier on the forehead.
Just a kiss. In the midst of the chaos and terror, it was a small gesture. Beside the dramatic acts of heroism, it could even go unnoticed. But it spoke to a profound humanity that could not be undone even when everything else was falling apart.
Most of us will never find ourselves in situations that call on the kind of physical bravery Capt. Swenson embodied that day. Many of us will never have to decide what to do in the heat of battle, or test our courage when our own lives are at risk. Yet as I watched the video of that brief kiss, I thought about how everyone of us has opportunities to seek out and embrace the humanity of the people we encounter, day to day. In ways large and small, we can recognize people as the precious gifts they are, and refuse to be distracted from that, no matter what is going on around us. It’s how Jesus treated the people he encountered throughout his life. It’s what gives meaning to even the most difficult times.
This Veterans Day, let’s remember the humanity of the men and women who give their service and sometimes their lives for our safety and security. Let’s pray for them. Let’s thank them. And let’s advocate for them, as well, by demanding that our nation provide the full benefits veterans need to heal and re-enter civilian life. If you have other suggestions, please pass them along. As Captain Swenson showed us, even the simplest of gestures can be most welcome.
Thanks be to God.
all started with the birds. At first it just seemed like there were a lot – more than the usual number swooping and gliding over the Santa Cruz shoreline. Wow, I thought to myself, I don’t remember this many pelicans here.
By late Tuesday afternoon, people were talking about it: what’s up with the birds? The shoreline was crowded with various feathered creatures, landing in groups, then taking to the skies again, like fliers from an aircraft carrier. By early the next morning, people were lining up on the beaches to watch, and the hundreds of birds had become thousands, and the skies were absolutely filled with them.
Then we noticed the whales. Not just one, way out on the horizon, but several, with flukes and spouts in full display, easily seen from the shore. On Wednesday, 30 to 40 were spotted just off the Santa Cruz shore, and I think I saw most of them.
But the whales weren’t alone. The dolphins were there, too, of course, and within about a 36 hour period, the waves that usually host surfers were pretty exclusively inhabited by an explosion of marine life, unlike anything most of us had ever seen.
What we couldn’t see with the naked eye was the “Why” of it all. What brought about this dramatic shift in the ecosystem? What had created this “nature on steroids” event? A tsunami someplace—an earthquake underneath the sea?
Nothing quite so big, it turns out. A very little fish (a whole lot of them actually) had congregated in the bay because the water temperature was unusually warm andappealing for a brief time. The anchovies, who hadn’t been in that area in such large quantities for quite awhile, were now there in huge numbers, and the rest of the marine life was responding. The whales and dolphins stirred the water to find the fish, and the birds had their fill of what was brought up to the surface. It had some elements of a flash mob: a sudden coming together for a well- choreographed dance, and then an equally sudden dispersal.
By Thursday, it was all back to normal.
Sometimes the world is so amazing you can’t help but notice. Sometimes the world is so unusually charged with God’s grandeur, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say, that even our tendency to overlook it is overcome, and we just stand on the shore in awe.
But the rest of the time, we can forget. So go outside or look out your window today. What do you see – really see? For me, it started with the birds. What will open your eyes today to the surprising beauty God has waiting for you?
Earth’s crammed with heaven
and every common bush
afire with God;
but only he who sees takes off his shoes;
the rest sit round it
and pluck blackberries.
~ Elizabeth Barret Browning
160 Birch Street
Redwood City, CA
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