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  • The Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: If you want peace, work on gratitude-11.23.23

As about 80 people gathered for the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service last night at St. Luke’s Catholic Church down the street, I was reminded of how integral gratitude is to fostering peace.

It was a good evening to practice. A 50-person choir, including many of our St. Peter’s singers, led us in song. Representatives of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Baha’i faith traditions shared reflections on peace and gratitude. My colleagues from the local Ministerium of churches both helped plan this lovely event, and offered prayer, hospitality and office support. The experience of both planning and practice loosened my gratitude muscles.

The reason that I say that gratitude is essential to fostering peace is that it is a practice that is essentially humble. Spend some quiet moments calling to mind the people that you are thankful for, the relationships whose blessings are not contractual, the help you have received. You will find yourself in a posture of receptivity, a place that receives and appreciates. Is this not the posture needed for peace? Is this not the softened soul necessary to make healing space for those who are suffering from conflict both locally and in the wars in Ukraine and Holy Land, violence that bruises our hearts?

Where might I begin? Perhaps with gratitude for the gifts of the person who might challenge me in other ways. With gratitude for painful situations that have also yielded loving acts, or important lessons. With gratitude for all that I did not earn, did not create, did not deserve, but that arrived at the door of my heart as balm or joy.

It is hard to plan revenge when contemplating gratitude. It is hard to rehearse the hurt and relive the disappointment when filling one’s mind with thankfulness. It is hard to be resentful when appreciating.

Here’s a suggestion on how to bring the peace-able quality of gratitude into your Thanksgiving feasts this year – especially if they will bring people to your table that you might find difficult to fully welcome.

Ahead of the gathering, spend some time prayerfully contemplating the guests, relatives or acquaintances whom you will be seeing this week. Note a few things about them that you are grateful for. For some folks this will be easy, even abundant. For others not so much. See what you can come up with, and perhaps jot it down if you need to.

Then perhaps tell them quietly when you see them. “I was thinking about who I would be seeing this week and what I appreciate about them, and I want you to know that I’m thankful for this about you ….” It doesn’t need to be a big announcement at the table, or a formal practice that everyone is forced to do. But what if it were just a quiet little gift you gave to the people you saw this holiday – it might even be in the form of a note, or an email after.

Where might such conversations lead? Would they change the course of fraught topics that often surface at such events? Would they break some ice that often goes unthawed?

Just a suggestion. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

I can start us off, by saying how grateful I am for the great spirit, compassion, welcome, mutuality and care that I have experienced among the whole St Peter’s Community. I see God’s grace in you and Christ’s face in you, and it often fills me with joy that gets me through tough days.

Savoring all that this faith community is, I look forward to a bit of rest in these next few days, time with family and friends, space to fill with appreciation and joy. Meanwhile, you are all never far from my thoughts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rev. Barb

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