Worship Script (1 of 4)
No matter where we are in our lives, we come here to give thanks.
Even when we don’t feel like it, and complaint pushes at the edge of our lips, we give thanks.
We come here to give thanks because we’re stubborn.
We come here to give thanks because something tells us we need to.
We come here to give thanks, especially, because we may not be feeling especially thankful.
So, against all common sense, against the news of the day, let us join together and give thanks.
And let the steady practice of thanksgiving fill us with what we need
To do what we have been needing to do in this life.
HYMN 122 “Sound Over All Waters”
FIRST READING “Try to Praise the Mutilated World”
By Adam Zagajewski (Translated by Clare Cavanagh)
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees going nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
SECOND READING “Visiting Pai-an Pavilion,” by Hsieh Ling-yun
I remember men who knew a hundred sorrows,
and the gratitude they felt for gifts.
Joy and sorrow pass, each by each,
failure at one moment, happy success the next.
But not for me. I have chosen freedom
from the world’s cares. I chose simplicity.
HYMN 83 “Winds Be Still”
STORY FOR ALL AGES “The Story of Two Wolves”
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Spirit of abiding peace,
Come to rest in our hearts.
Lay us down into these moments
When we can soak in the gifts
Of having known what we’ve known
Having seen what we’ve seen.
Spirit of peace, move through us all,
So that we are strangely different,
Quieter somehow, and gentler somehow.
Be with us, until we come to ourselves
CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN
Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and that they speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.
by Abbey Tennis, minister, First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
There is a large duckling-yellow hardcover book in my mother’s house called a “baby book.” It is my baby book, in fact. The book where my parents recorded the details of my birth and development—I was 10 ½ pounds when I was born, my grandmother gave me my first bath. There are pictures from the first day of school every fall. A tiny ink footprint from my first days on earth.
When I was a kid, this book was a treasure trove of information about the “me” that I didn’t remember anymore. Over time, there were fewer and fewer entries until they almost petered out. Then, in the height of my cantankerous teens, I got into a huge fight with my mother. I no longer remember why we fought, but I do remember that I screamed “[BLEEP] you, mom!”
Except I didn’t say “[BLEEP].” I said something much worse.
My mother calmly walked into the dining room, pulled down the big yellow book from the bookshelf, opened to a new page, and wrote:
“1997. Abbey screams “[BLEEP] you, mom!” at the top of her lungs for the very … first … time.”
My family members have good senses of humor. There are times when we can laugh at our fights, then use our indoor voices to say why we’re really upset. We can get back into right relationship with one another. I’d like to say that 1997 was the last time I screamed “[BLEEP] you” at anyone, but I’m not that good a liar. I’d like to say that I’ve been able to laugh it off every time, but I’m not that good a person.
So, those of us in the US are about to have Thanksgiving, and I’m guessing many of you will be spending the holiday with family, so you know what I’m talking about, right? The dreaded laughter and fighting? Anxiety as well as comfort? Gladness and sadness?
Being with family over the holidays can be wonderful—you get to eat second helpings of your aunt’s famous greens, watch your hometown’s football game, and pass around the newest family baby. In my family, we usually have more types of pie at Thanksgiving than we have guests. There are wonderful things about family.
But family can also push your buttons. Dad’s knee is acting up again, but he is too proud to ask for help with the yard work, and you’re worried sick. It’s 2pm, your son-in-law is sitting next to his 3-year-old niece, drinking his 4th beer and yelling obscenities at the TV. Cousin Sarah refuses to acknowledge your partnership of 10 years and keeps calling your wife your “friend.” We show up, exhausted after a long drive with a screaming 2-year-old, only for our mother to criticize our parenting style. Our son returns home from his first psychology class in college and blames us for all of his maladjustment in life.
No matter how patient we are, we know we will erupt into a fight with someone who voted differently than us. No matter how we yearn for love and affirmation from our parents, they will never be able to express their feelings in ways that feel good to us.
It makes sense that our families push our buttons. After all, they are the ones who installed the buttons in the first place. But getting into the same fight, year after year, with the same family member can get wearing. Sometimes it gets bad enough that we avoid the family just to avoid the fight. Or maybe our anger is deeper than irritation. Maybe there is a history of abuse in our family that no one talks about. Maybe our wounds come from years of being put down, neglected, overlooked. Being away from family over the holidays, having no family, or just being alone, can feel awful even when it is sometimes what we have chosen. Even when it’s the right choice.
No matter what, some of us find the holiday season rivals only the election season as the most stressful and anger- provoking time of year.
And yet, sitting next to the person who pushes our buttons more than any other person in the world, we are told that this it a time for gratitude.
There is a line in the Gospel song by Brian Tate called “Overflowing” where the choir sings “Grateful in gladness, grateful in sadness.”
This line has always struck me, because I have always associated “gratitude” with the times when we are happy. It is easy to be grateful in gladness. But if gratitude is not simply some nuance of “gladness,” if gratitude is perhaps not even an emotion at all, than what is it?
Grateful in gladness, grateful in sadness.
Like many of you, I have been looking for gratitude in the midst of a steady stream of horror.
I have been looking for gratitude after reading that we have only 12 years to turn around climate change if we hope to avert utter catastrophe, and that we are on our way to pushing a million different species to extinction.
I have been looking for gratitude for my fellow Americans, who voted for a leadership team that will do nothing to halt the violence against trans people, who will do nothing to halt the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, who have separated thousands of immigrant children from their parents.
I have been looking for gratitude when beloved congregants, friends, and loved ones are in the hospital, or facing frightening diagnoses, or assaults, or uncertainty about whether they will recover—whether they will survive.
If I don’t feel gladness, where can I find gratitude?
Too often recently, the place I have been able to look for gratitude is in the sadness. Because gratitude lives there too.
Grateful in gladness, grateful in sadness.
I’m talking about the gratitude that makes my body weak and pours as tears from my eyes as I leave the hospital room of someone who might have died, but didn't.
I’m talking about the kind of gratitude that comes when entering an African Methodist Episcopal church for a prayer vigil the night after a white supremacist radical Christian terrorist massacred nine black people of faith at another African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, and hearing the choir begin to sing:
How great is our god? Sing with me How great is our god? All will see How great, How great is our god?
The kind of gratitude I feel when I’m with people who choose faith in the face of devastation. Gratitude for those who choose resilience in the face of fear. Gratitude for those who show up, week after week, to do the work of greeting strangers, or lifting their voices in song, or passing the baskets of nourishment along the rows, all while they feel that the world is unraveling at the seams.
Grateful in sadness
I served as a hospital chaplain in Baltimore several years ago. If you ever want an education in gratitude, go spend some time at a hospital. When one lives in such close proximity to sickness and death, I think most people find practices of gratitude essential for coping.
Though working on the psychiatric unit was my most intense duty, I learned the most about gratitude from my stint with the elders in the elder care program. This was a day program where elders living in their own homes would be picked up in vans and brought to the hospital for group programs, breakfast and lunch, and wrap-around medical care. It basically provided the community, fun, and medical support of a good nursing home, while allowing its members to stay in their own homes.
When I began, they told me that I would be responsible for leading a short worship service every morning that I was with them.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
I was a soft-spoken second year seminarian at the time, and had only preached a handful of times. Ever. The idea of leading worship multiple times a week for a multi-faith group of elders, most of whom struggled to even be able to hear my voice, terrified me.
I wracked my brain for worship topics that would resonate with evangelical Christians, members of the Nation of Islam, cultural Jews, and Atheists. And what came to me, over and over, was the theme of gratitude.
So each morning, I would arrive, sweaty palmed and heart beating fast, and pick up the beat-up old microphone at the front of the room. After pressing the on button and making sure I was holding the bottom properly so that the batteries wouldn’t fall out—this wasn’t a well-funded program—I would ask the program participants what they were thankful for.
As they raised their hands, I would walk around the room and hold the microphone out for each of them in turn. All kinds of gratitude were lifted up.
“I’m grateful for God,” one would begin.
“I’m grateful for my family,” the next one would say.
“I’m grateful for the bus driver who got me here this morning.” “I’m grateful for this program.”
But the most common thing they said was “I’m grateful that I woke up this morning.”
Each time I invited them to share their gratitude, one after another of them would give thanks for simply waking up that day. Others around them would say “Amen” and then would ask for the microphone and say that THEY were grateful for waking up that morning.
Every day, so many of them said “I’m grateful for waking up this morning.”
They knew that one day, all too soon, they would not wake up again. And that made each waking so much more precious.
Grateful in gladness, grateful in sadness.
As you prepare for whatever Thanksgiving meal you may go to—whatever shared meal you may go to—remember that breaking bread with others is a revolutionary act. Especially if it’s with those who may not be like you, whether that is an Uncle who is a die-hard Trump supporter when you were a Bernie fan, a person who asks for some help getting something to eat on the street, or a person who offers that help; or even just someone you don’t yet know.
Breaking bread together turns “them” into “us.” Breaking bread together turns a stranger into a companion. Breaking bread together joins us in a revolution of loving across difference.
Because we are nurtured by the world around us, our first duty is to be grateful for the world around us. Grateful for the sun, rain, the bus driver, the ducklings; grateful for each day.
HYMN 100 “I’ve Got Peace Like a River”
Though the world is not perfect,
Go from this place in a spirit of praise.
Though not all has been fixed or resolved,
Go from this place with a spirit of peace.
Though so much more is yet to be done,
Go from this place with a spirit of rejoicing.
Let your stubborn joy be the challenge
You bring to this world.