Gratitude, especially in difficult times

You may think I’m crazy, but I’ve decided to start a gratitude journal as part of my effort to mitigate my COVID-19-induced anxiety.

What, a gratitude journal, in times like this? What a thing of privilege, in a time when folks are getting laid off left and right and small businesses are shutting down and we don’t have enough tests to even see how much of a problem this thing is nor enough hospital equipment to protect the nurses and doctors caring for people…

But yes, a gratitude journal. I’m late to the bandwagon that has been gratitude journals. Every once in a while I remember to be grateful, but not consistently enough to make a difference in my “root cellar” store of gratitude. There is a reason we call such things “spiritual practices,” for we need to practice them regularly, like our piano scales or our multiplication tables or our squats or our meditation before they become part of us, and then if we stop we have to get back in the habit today.

I get a newsletter on wellness from the New York Times in my email inbox from time to time, and yesterday it too talked about gratitude as a spiritual practice for our current times. As the author, Tara Parker-Pope, writes,

“Every time I wash my hands, I focus on my feelings of gratitude. I start with the doctors, nurses, ambulance and hospital workers on the front lines of the pandemic. I think about the countless numbers of hourly workers who are restocking grocery store shelves, working at pharmacies and staffing checkout counters. These people are coming face-to-face with hundreds of people each day, putting themselves at risk so the rest of us have food and necessities. I think about sanitation workers collecting our trash. I think about the young man who provides maintenance and cleaning to my building, while grandparents care for his 9-year-old and 1-year-old children…A gratitude practice does not sound like much, but we know from research that a daily gratitude practice is good for us, helping us reduce stress, get better sleep and stay healthier. Thinking about the sacrifice of these people gives me a boost (and I also share my thanks in person when I check out at the grocery store).”

I’d add that being grateful also leads me to write to my congressional representatives to push for paid sick leave for all, for relief for those put out of work, for the closing of immigration detention centers,…

I will be going old school and doing a hand-written gratitude journal starting today, but I will share my first entry here: I am grateful that I am part of a faith community that is truly a community, caring for others and not just for themselves in this health crisis, and even amid this health scare still reaching out to the wider world seeking to love all our neighbors. Case in point: one of our members called me yesterday and wondered whether I had heard if a man from our church was going to be ok because he lived alone and relies on restaurant meals for his food and much of his social interaction, and most restaurants have closed to all but take out due to public health directives. The man on the phone knew about the other man and his habits because they had chatted often before Sunday services and then again afterward during Coffee Hour. That is one of the ways that a church can be a community – we are not alike, we may even come from different political viewpoints, but we get to know one another and care for one another.

That is what hurts so much with not being able to safely gather in person in community: we are missing those connections, and we are missing opportunities to help one another and to help others in our area and the world. (We are working on facilitating such connections remotely, so stay tuned for more info.) But I am grateful that I am part of a community where the hyper-individualism of our day is not the overriding ethos, where people care for one another, and we can offer peace and love to all.

And I know, a gratitude journal will not protect me and my loved ones from the coronavirus, and it won’t make masks and respirators magically appear in hospitals where needed, and it won’t get us back to where we were one month ago, but it will help me to remember and pray for that owner of my favorite local coffee shop, struggling to stay afloat, and the nurse working extra shifts , and first responders,…, and it will remind me that it is not all about me, and maybe that wisdom will help carry us through to a brighter day, a more loving world, and more unite world. Maybe. I live in hope.

March 17: Be Still My Soul

I’ve noticed already that some people are struggling with the isolation of enforced physical distancing, and wondering about what the world, and their world in particular, will be like after this outbreak is behind us.  There is worry about what life will look like, will their favorite/needed activities still be here, and I don’t blame them for worrying about this, for our regular swim sessions, our favorite yoga instructor, the neighborhood restaurant that is like a second home and they know us by name…all these are important to us as ways in which we define ourselves and socialize in the world.

Yesterday, when I heard for the first time a newscaster predicting that everyday life would be changed by this outbreak, my first thought was — hey, it is way too early for such fear-based predictions (and also, what an issue of white privilege this could be considered, but that is a topic for another day).  But I also appreciate that uncertainty can lead us to such thoughts.  The uncertainties we face today — how long will we have to cancel worship services, or stay 6 feet apart from one another, or fear just going to the grocery store, and for most of us the greatest uncertainty (not getting the virus, but passing it on to someone more vulnerable than us)  — these uncertainties may be one of the most difficult aspects of this outbreak.  And so we go to a dark place — things will never be the same — it is natural. It is wise to focus on what we have control over — what we say and do today — but it is natural that we get distracted by what we have little control over right now — what the world will look like on the other side.  Perhaps this is a good time to remember “the Serenity Prayer,” a spiritual blessing for everyone, not just twelve step groups:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I offer something else today as an aid, of sorts, to help us to center ourselves in the spirit of what is there for us today — God’s love, and God’s presence, no matter how physically isolated we may feel today, and no matter what may come in all our tomorrows.  Below are the words of the hymn “Be Still, My Soul” for us to meditate on today, and a link to an instrumental version .  I hope it blesses you and provide you solace and calmness today.

Peace and blessings, Pastor Leslie

Be Still, My Soul (verses 1&2; words by Katharina von Schlegel, translation by Jane Laurie Borthwick, from The New Century Hymnal; music by Jean Sibelius)

Be still, my soul: for God is on your side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to your God to order and provide; in every change God faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: your best eternal friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: for God will undertake to guide in future days as in the past. Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be clear at last. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know how Jesus’ power ruled them long ago.

March 15, 2020: Church in the time of coronavirus, part 1

We met for worship service in person this morning, although it was a much smaller crowd than usual.  A link to my sermon and prayers of the people are attached.  In my message I remarked how Jesus was one to bring wholeness to people through connecting with them, but that it was the spiritual connection that was most important.  In these times connection is even more important, as people face challenges and anxieties we only imagined a few weeks ago, but just because we are not meeting as much physically, doesn’t mean we cannot connect together spiritually.  Write a letter, make a phone call, send a card — connecting with others helps them, and it helps us.


One of the hymns we sang was “We Yearn, O Christ, for Wholeness” (tune by Hans Leo Hassler, words by Dosia Carlson, from The New Century Hymnal; I thought I’d share some of the words, which you may find as blessing as those who sang them this morning.

“We yearn, O Christ, for wholeness and for your healing touch; too long have we felt helpless; our burdens seemed too much. Forgetting all pretenses we make our pleadings heard, in hope and expectation await your gracious word.

We long to have companions who travel by our side, strong friends to call and answer with whom we are allied; as we lift up each other when struggles lay us low, community develops; our faith and caring grow.

We need your living presence, O Christ of Galilee, a presence that revives us and sets our spirits free. No longer are we fearful, your love pervades each place. Empower us with courage to claim your healing grace.”


Pastor Leslie