Gratitude and Tragedy

The weight of the world is heavy, so we sometimes take refuge at our local Unitarian Universalist Church. It’s not a place of preaching, but one of teaching, questioning, reflecting, learning. When the minister speaks, it feels less like listening to a sermon are more like sitting by a campfire chatting with a funny, wise professor.

UU is exactly the hippy-dippy kind of religion you’d expect to find in California — except it dates back to the late 1700s, with prominent members like Thomas Jefferson and Susan B. Anthony.

We don’t attend often, but when we do, it seems the message is always what we need to hear in that moment. And so this week, after stewing over an earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown, and the possible beginning of another war, we went to church and were given exactly what needed: an opportunity to focus on gratitude.

Rev. Jim Nelson’s words are as eloquent as his message, so I won’t even try to paraphrase from his sermon, A Grateful Spirit. Here is an excerpt:

Gratitude – perhaps gratitude that so many of us are spared terrible tragedy in life. Gratitude that so many of us have so much, and so many blessings. Gratitude that we live in a relatively free society, a relatively prosperous one, that we live in a society where, slowly to be sure but certainly nonetheless, freedom and equality are being extended to more and more people. It was just 100 years ago that California gave women the right to vote- one of the first states to do so. Just three years ago [already – three – it seems like forever and it seems like yesterday], we, for a brief but phenomenal time, celebrated relationships in the sacrament of marriage regardless of gender and will do so again sometime in the hopefully near future, but sometime in our lifetime for sure. Two hundred years ago children were chattel and African Americans were slaves.

My daughters have possibilities their mother did not have. An African American sits in the White House. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. For these I am grateful. Things have gotten better – there is so much to be grateful for.

The world is filled with beauty and joy. The ability to make music, use language, draw, sculpt, play think. The joy of skin touching skin, lips touching lips, the beauty of the human body, the wonder of moving through space, of running and jumping, dancing and singing, hitting a five iron, of holding the hand of someone you love, of not being alone, of sitting here with good people who care about each other and the world.

Yes, with all its tragedy and sorrow, the world is heavy. But it’s also filled with beauty and joy, and in that we lighten our load just a bit.

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