Throughout the month of November, kind people on Facebook with more focus than I are noting for what they are grateful. Starting the first of each November, a few of my friends take time each day to consider all the wonders in their lives and make note of them online. It’s a fine practice, but I’ll not join in since I’m nearly three weeks late and would likely start repeating myself after three days, given my short memory. Instead, I’ll take some time here to consider a framework for gratitude and the Unitarian Universalist while giving thanks along the way.
While Unitarian Universalists lack agreement on the deity question, I’d bet most of us could agree that gratitude, freely given from the heart, is a valuable practice. And while we also don’t all agree on the seven principles, I think these can serve as a template for our gratitude. Here’s an attempt at framing my gratitude in terms of those principles
Principle 1: We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This principle strikes me as the core UU principle, with the others springing from it. Christians are instructed to love one another as they have been loved by God. Unitarian Universalists are encouraged to continually and consistently respect the worth of everyone, not just the folks we agree with or like. In the light of gratitude, this mean appreciating the presence of the people in our lives, and not just the ones who touch it in a loving, compassionate way. Those are the easy folks for whom to be grateful. I’m also thankful for the driver who cut in front me in line at on Telegraph Rd., the tired and crabby postal worker who accepted my package, and the nasty-spirited commenters who belittle most of what I believe in. Why? Because these are the people who make me put this principle into action. They are the ones that make me breathe deeply and pause, perhaps then to remain silent or to slather with kindness. I’m thankful for these opportunities to practice my beliefs.
Principle 2: We affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Principle two is the practice of principle one. It’s how we demonstrate that we believe that people have worth and dignity. I’m grateful for the compassion others have shown me, for sticking with me when I’m less than charming or helping out when I’m just worn out and need some care. These acts of kindness remind me that I have worth and dignity often when I feel the least worthy or dignified. On a larger level, I’m thankful that as a nation, we’re finally moving toward offering equity to those who love another of their same gender. Finally, albeit slowly, the worth and dignity of this part of our population is being realized, and equity and justice are being achieved.
Principle 3: We affirm and promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. I am deeply grateful for the freedom I have within my Unitarian Universalist congregation to explore what spirituality means to me. I feel a sense of privilege to be surrounded by deep thinkers who take none of the wonder of the universe or live in it for granted. Between people and programs, there are plenty of opportunities to consider spiritual matters and plenty of conversation to share. Thank you, UUCF.
Principle 4: We affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. This one is easy for me to take for granted. Raised in liberal religion by spiritual seekers who were not afraid to look beyond the faith of their youth, I was taught by example the importance and value of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. I’m grateful for family (Jewish and Christian) who afford me the same acceptance. I know I’m lucky in that. I’ve never had to defend my beliefs to family nor have I been told my path is wrong or invalid. For all of that freedom and support, I’m thankful.
Principle 5: We affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of democratic process within our congregations and society at large. I’m grateful to have a voice in my church and in my nation. After years in Catholic churches where I felt like I had no say, being part of a congregation that supports democracy in religion restores my sense of ownership of my spiritual home. On the national level, I’m grateful to live in a country where, messy and polarized as it all may be, there is choice. I can vote for whom I want, and I’m thankful for that right.
Principle 6: We affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. I’m grateful that there are efforts made in this direction, by individuals, groups, and, at times, our government. I’m often discouraged by how deeply inequity, violence, injustice, and bondage continue to plague our world community, with discouragement turning to despair at points. I’m discouraged by my own lack of action, although I don’t even know where to begin. I’m thankful others have more courage and conviction on these issues, giving their time and talents to working for world peace.
Principle 7: We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. I’m grateful for my sons, my family of origin, my family of choice, my friends, and my community, all who are integral strands of the web of my life. I’m thankful for the spot of garden I nurture (often poorly) in my yard and the bit of sustenance I receive from it. I’m grateful for those who farm the earth gently, remembering that we must take care of this fragile planet. I’m thankful for those who work to make sustainable energy sources more accessible and practical and grateful, helping to assure my sons and my sons’ sons and daughters will have futures full of light and heat. I’m grateful for our tiny spot in the universe, the one that is Goldilocks-comfortable, and either the chance or choice that made this place possible.
Gratitude, structured over the days or within religious principles, is a valuable practice. It’s worth taking some time to take note, aloud or on paper or pixel, what brings us closer to truth, love, and meaning. It’s worth the effort and exposure to thank those who bring us those elements that make our lives even just a bit better. As I composed those last 1000 words, only a small fraction of what makes me grateful made it to the page. But it’s a start. And the time to be thankful extends beyond this Thursday or the end of November. For that — and so much more — I am grateful.