Litany for Appreciation

Happy Thanksgiving Week! Everyone is talking about my favorite things this week: Gratitude. But I actually want to talk about the thing I consider the precursor to gratitude: Appreciation.

I have heard and read a lot of spiritual teachers from many different backgrounds say something to this effect: if you can get your mind/attitude/energy into a mode of appreciation, you can change your life because then you start to change how you perceive your life. Teachers from all walks of life say: appreciation is a precursor to gratitude, and gratitude is a precursor to love.

A patron recently called my attention to this passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which we see this rare attitude of appreciation illuminated:


11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’[c] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Ten are healed. One expresses appreciation. And I get the sense that when Jesus says “your faith has made you well” he means more than just physical wellness. I have a hunch that Jesus is acknowledging this attitude of gratitude to be a deeper inroad to wholeness; and that, somehow, appreciation is a bold exercise of faith. But here’s a thing I notice: to appreciate something, we first have to be paying attention to it. And attention is a costly thing - it takes intention and practice and deep looking. It takes what many spiritual teachers call Mindfulness.

In her book _Grateful_, Diana Butler Bass says, “Gratitude is not only an emotion; it is something we do. It is like tending a garden. It takes planting and watering and weeding. It takes time and attention. It takes learning. It takes routine. But, eventually, the ground yields, shoots come forth, and thanksgiving blooms.”

I wonder if all ten of those ex-lepers felt gratitude, but only one had any experience with doing gratitude? And if the teachers are right and the roadmap looks like this: (Attention → Appreciation → Gratitude → Love), then what does that mean for how we go about cultivating love and loving action in our lives? It’s a pretty good question, I think. Here’s a prayer for the roadmap:

God, as we seek to live lives of intentional love,
We acknowledge the importance of paying attention
To the deep self,
To the external lesson,
To the need and the want,
To the fulfillment and the calling,
To the disease and the healing,
To the existence and the blessing.

We are learning how to cultivate and grow love and loving action:
Starting with attention and observation,
Moving into appreciation and thankfulness,
Letting gratitude shift us into love.

We know that love is the foundation of the universe -
That the deepest particle,
The inmost kernel,
The alpha and the omega, is love.

But sometimes, in the midst of everything happening to us,
Love is kind of hard to get to.
So we are learning to start somewhere even simpler:
By paying attention,
By offering appreciation,
By letting appreciation lead to gratitude.

And we know that if we can get in gratitude’s groove and vicinity
It can show us the way to love,
Even in murky waters,
Even in complicated situations.

So, boldly, resisting the voices that tell us to duck and run,
We do our first act of faith,
Which is to appreciate even the meagerest of blessings,
And offer praise and thanksgiving. Amen


Litany for Good Things (Proper 25, Year B)

This litany is based on a reading of the Lectionary passages for this week from Job, Psalms, and Jeremiah: “With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble…”

God, you invented all things from nothing.
Your imagination was the beginning of everything.
We get to experience life and beauty
Because you imagined them.
We get to explore and learn in the world
Because you brought us out of yourself.

We get stuck a lot on judging things and situations.
We say “this is good and that is bad.”
We approve some things and condemn others.
We accept some experiences and resist others.

But the truth is, resistance causes us suffering;
No purpose of yours can be thwarted (1).
The truth is, we can’t know the vastness of your goodness,
And our best option is to surrender to it.

Even in what we consider trouble,
You do good things.
Even when we experience pain,
You do good things.
Even when all we see is chaos,
You do good things.

We surrender now to the Highest Good,
The Deepest Joy,
The Biggest Love,
The Best Life.
And it’s in you, God; made by and through you, for you, for us:
The Divine Goodness.

May we who sow in tears
Reap with shouts of joy (2).
May we seek Goodness
And find it all the days of our lives.

Amen

1) Job 42:2
2) Psalm 126:5



Litany for End-of-year Reflection

God, with your help we have come here,
To the end of another year,
Some bearing smiles,
Others bearing scars.

We reflect upon your goodness now
Your constant Presence,
Your unfailing love,
Your kind regard.

You offer peace.
We accept.
You offer nearness.
We accept.
You offer a new life.
We accept.
You offer transformed hearts.
We accept.

Heal us where we are wounded.
Sort us where we are confused.
Sweeten us where we are bitter.
Open us where we are shut-down.

For all the ways you’ve revolutionized our hearts and minds this year
We give thanks.
For the improvements to our character,
We give thanks.
For challenges tackled and trials endured,
We give thanks.
For disappointments that have re-oriented us,
We give thanks.
For pain that has disciplined us,
We give thanks.
For love that has soothed us,
We give thanks.
For the light of Christ, whose life has illumined the path of peace,
We give thanks.

Amen
 

A Litany for Thanksgiving

I wrote this litany last year, before I had this site. I've written more litanies on the topic of gratitude than any other topic, and I hope it stays that way. I hope I can always hang on to a grateful heart.

Recently I tweeted this to my 54 twitter followers:
"If I die and the words "Jesus," "equality," and "prayer" don't appear in my epitaph, you'll all know I didn't fulfill my calling."

Now I think I would amend that to include the word "gratitude."

 


To the God of heaven and earth, creator of people and creatures, author of seasons and of time:
We give thanks.
In this season of reflection, we look back over our lives and over the year past, and we acknowledge the ways that you have shaped us.
We give thanks.
We acknowledge the ways that things have not been perfect, and we have fallen short.
We give thanks.
We reflect on the difficulties we have encountered, and the sorrows we’ve borne.
We give thanks.
We remember the times you have seemed near to us, and the times we have been so engrossed in our own lives that we couldn’t sense your presence.
We give thanks.
We confess those times we have failed to help, and missed opportunities to love.
We give thanks.

In joy and in sorrow, in triumph and in failure,
We give thanks.
In prosperity and in loss, in ease and in difficulty,
We give thanks.

We rest in the knowledge that your purposes are accomplished both with and despite us, and we understand that every part of our journey is an opportunity for us to grow.
We give thanks.
We rest in the peace of your kindness and soak up your overflowing love, which is always directed toward us, regardless of whether we are willing to receive it.
We give thanks.

May we go forward, walking in that same kindness, passing peace to all we meet, and loving generously and intentionally.
We give thanks.
And may gratitude be reaped and sown in our hearts
We give thanks.

Amen

 

 

Litany for Not Losing Hope

The Lectionary text for October 16 is Luke 18:1-8.

I have been thinking a lot about how easy it is for me to become overwhelmed with the suffering of the world in the Smartphone age. We have twitter and facebook and all manner of news at our fingertips or in our pockets literally all day long. I can know about nearly every terrible thing that happens on the earth at any given moment and become crippled with sorrow, a crumpled mess. And I have. Which is ok sometimes to do, even recommended. But I think I have work to do to figure out how to be engaged and aware and prayerfully participating but not consumed and overwhelmed.

In fact, I’d started some notes for a post along these lines, about not losing hope, staying engaged, keeping on praying. And then I read this week’s passage from the gospel of Luke.* How bout that? A parable about our “need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Jesus, you rascal, with your uncanny sense of irony.

So how do we, folks who care, folks who pray, folks who want justice for the oppressed both at home and abroad, how do we not lose hope? How do we find the strength and perseverance to keep on praying, even though new tragedies happen every day and the work is never done? Even though kids are dying of chlorine gas attacks in Aleppo; Hurricane Matthew has devastated Haiti; race relations in the US (and elsewhere) result in death and devastation nearly daily; 1 out of ever 113 people on earth is currently a refugee; women all over the world are marginalized, abused, and underpaid; the U.S. political scenario is currently discouraging (at best!), and on and on.

Well, I’m convinced of a few things:

Contemplative Christian faith has valuable things to offer: ancient practices of the church which inspire peace within and without, and which ground and unify us and give us words and space for lament and grief and heart-change and focus. We would do well to learn them.

Real faith expresses real emotions, even the ones that we might consider negative. We don’t have to do the happy-happy-joy-joy constant victory dance. We can be present to suffering. We can express lament. We can weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. We can feel our feelings and allow others to feel theirs. This is part of our work of compassion in the world, and part of our victory. We can take our example in this from Christ himself.

Sabbath makes sense, and not just for resting from work. We can embrace the divine offer of Sabbath by turning off our personal news outlets one day a week. The world will survive while we take a moment to re-group. I don’t advocate sticking our heads in the sand, except for one day of the week, which you choose in the freedom and goodness of God, to receive the mercy of God in your own heart.

I don't think these are a panacea for hopelessness, but in my life I’m seeing them ground me in hope, and I know I can get better at leaning into them.

If you need help with hope, pray with me.

 

God, our faithful Friend: we know that you are not like the unjust judge in the parable.
You are just and merciful and compassionate,
We often find it difficult to hold suffering in our minds alongside hope.
Our hearts are often fragile and our minds forgetful.

Help us to be ok with expressing a full range of emotions:
Lament and joy
Anger and affection
Gratitude and disgust
Excitement and sadness
Doubt and empathy.

Help us to be disciplined, grounded in practices that bring us life
Prayer
Meditation
Fasting
Sabbath-rest
Worship

May the fruit of our practice be a river of hope
That flows beneath all we do
Into which we may refresh ourselves
Whenever we grow weary.

And help us to be as persistent as the widow
Not losing hope
Praying without ceasing
Seeking and working for justice.

Amen

 

*I try not to read ahead from week to week before preparing the Litany, just as a way of keeping an open mind

Litany for Ten Lepers

The Lectionary passage for October 9 from the Gospels is Luke 17:11-19. It is the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Of the ten healed, only one returns to worship at Jesus' feet and express gratitude. The lepers would have been considered the dregs of society, the forgotten, the most avoided. They kept their distance from Jesus, and yet they are recipients of his mercy even from afar. All ten were healed, but only the grateful one drew near to him to worship.
 

God, who sent Christ
Who has mercy on the leper, the foreigner, the unseen
On those who keep their distance
Hovering on the edges of society:

You bring the unclean near to you.
Draw us near, now, to your merciful love.

We want to be like the one who came back:
The one who receives healing with a grateful heart
Who asks for mercy, and in receiving it,
Rejoices and worships at your feet.

We thank you, Oh God,
You heal our diseases and make us clean.
You give a home to the homeless,
You give food and drink to empty bellies,
You care for the foreigner and the orphan.
You raise up those who are powerless and forgotten.
Hallelujah!
Thanks and praise are yours forever!
Hallelujah!
Peace and healing are in your hands.

May our hearts be attuned both to the mercy we may offer,
And to the mercy of God we receive daily in drawing close to Christ.

Amen

Litany for Privilege

The other day I gave an exasperated lecture to one of my kids. My kids are 3 and 5, so I’ll admit it may have been developmentally inappropriate, but I was frustrated and venting and I figure I may as well start them early at recognizing their privilege. The lecture went something like this:


Why are you whining and complaining all the time?! I’m sick of hearing it. You have a beautiful, wonderful life. You are safe. You have a mama and papa who love and adore you. You have a sister who is your friend and who loves you. You have aunts and uncles and grandparents who love you. You play outside all the time. You go on nice outings. You eat nice food. You sleep in a comfy bed in an air-conditioned room. You have plenty of clean clothes. Every aspect of your life is cared for. Do you know what this whining and complaining is called? It’s called ingratitude. That is when we don’t thank God for the blessings God gives us and we don’t appreciate them, and God doesn’t like it and I DON'T EITHER.

So. This mama may have taken a few deep cleansing breaths after that. This mama may have thought about how this child is unable to see her privilege because she has never known anything else. This mama may have realized she was lecturing herself, and recognized that the lecture may have caused a new swell of gratitude in her own heart, and a new commitment to helping her kids learn compassion.

 

God, this life here on earth is a mixed bag
Of joy and pain
Grief and exuberance
Stillness and frenzy.

We don’t get to choose where we are born, or to whom,
But we know you made us and we are your children.

Open our eyes to all the ways we are blessed
That we may share and bless others.
Open our eyes to all the ways we have been born to privilege
That we may live with grateful hearts.

In many ways we are born to pain.
Let us bear one another’s burdens.
In many ways we are born weak and blind.
Let us be kind to one another.
In many ways we are born to poverty.
Let us know the riches of your grace.
In many ways the privilege we are born to blinds us to the pain of others.
Let us be considerate of our brothers and sisters.

May we spread goodness and mercy wherever we go
Regardless of where we come from.
May we find healing and acceptance with you
And know you as the one who gives good gifts.

Amen.

Litany for Gratitude 2 + The Dark Side of Gratitude

Over on my Instagram (@franniep) this month I've been sharing a few things each day for which I'm grateful. Big or small, impactful or trivial, I'm just naming things I'm grateful for. This has had some surprising effects. For one, it's getting easier each day to put on my gratitude glasses and see things I'm thankful for. It's getting easier to sit with gratitude and allow it to change my outlook on life.

But for all I think that gratitude is an indispensable part of a healthy outlook, necessary to counteract cynicism and enlarge our picture of God, I think gratitude might have a dark side. I've caught myself several times feeling guilty for feeling gratitude. So many people don't have the privileges I have, the freedoms, their basic needs met. So many have kids who aren't in vibrant health, or family situations that are painful or difficult. Isn't it smug and prideful of me to dwell on all my blessings, list them out, take photos of them and post them on social media, acknowledge them and allow myself the pleasure of enjoying them?

It kind of is, isn't it?

Furthermore I've been in some painful, messy places in life, and was I very good at practicing gratitude during those times? Not hardly. Isn't gratitude supposed to be a good clean feeling, black and white, no gray allowed? Isn't it mean to rub gratitude in the face of people in pain?

It kind of is. No one told me it would be so messy.

When I let my thoughts come full circle, I think it would be worse to not be grateful. It would be worse to not enjoy and participate in feasting on life whenever the opportunity arises. It would be small-hearted and cynical to not assume a posture of gratitude. It would be worse to deny the mercy of God whenever we are offered it.

This is a thing the discipline of gratitude does: it opens our eyes. Both to our blessing and to our privilege, to our undeserving and our responsibility, to our smallness and our preciousness. A posture of gratitude can illuminate that gray area between abundance and poverty, and inform our perception of them. It can illuminate joy as well as joy's pesky sidekick: suffering.

And also, gratitude gets easier. The more we do it, the more naturally we revert to it. I think we should practice it whenever we can if we hope to have any capacity for it at all when suffering comes. So to that end, I've written us a prayer to practice with, and hopefully help us wear grooves of gratitude in our hearts so that we can find them by touch, even in the dark.

I’ve kept to a simple refrain in this instance for congregational ease, but I have another Litany for Gratitude here.

 

Great God, You created the good earth and all its creatures, the heavens and all they contain.
We give thanks.
You give us life. You give us consciousness and choices. You give us love.
We give thanks.

For the blessings of family, friendships, and worldly provision,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of talent, aptitude, and meaningful work,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of food, wine, and good conversation, those times of feast and enjoyment,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of trivial pleasures, small gifts meant for our happiness,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of expression, song, art, human ingenuity, and creativity,
We give thanks.
For the blessings of peace that come from knowing You,
We give thanks.

When we survive mishaps
We give thanks.
When we endure consequences and pain
We give thanks.
When we must combat evil with goodness and love
We give thanks.
When we must deny ourselves, bear burdens, and obey
We give thanks.
When we must suffer loss and disappointment
We give thanks.
When me must come to the end of our physical lives
We give thanks.

When we chose violence and rebellion, you made a way to recover us.
We give thanks.
The way is Christ: the true and full, shining image of Your love.
We give thanks.
For Jesus Christ and the Kingdom he began here, in which You invite us to participate,
We give thanks.
And for the experience of living on earth, in all its paradoxes and mingling of joy and suffering,
We give thanks.

Amen.



 

Litany for Gratitude

To You, O God, we give thanks.

We give thanks for the morning, when joy comes to us.
We give thanks for the evening, when we meditate on your love.
We give thanks for the in-between, the working hours, the accomplishing hours; when we must practice gratitude amidst distraction and busyness.
We give thanks for the long dark of night, when our souls and bodies assimilate and regenerate.

We give thanks for the people we love effortlessly, but also for the people who chafe and challenge us.
We give thanks for our enemies, who teach us to bless and forgive.
We give thanks for our families, who teach us grace and forbearance.
We give thanks for those whose lives we touch only momentarily - may we be a lasting blessing.

We give thanks for the boisterous, jubilant seasons. 
We give thanks for the subtle, quiet seasons. 
We give thanks for the seasons of difficulty and pain. 
May we emerge from each bearing the image of Christ Jesus.

We give thanks both when we are certain, and when uncertainty plagues us; both in the black and white, and in the gray.

We give thanks to You, acknowledging that every drop and morsel that sustains us comes from Your hand; that our place in the universe exists because You created it; and that Your purposes exceed the bounds of our imagining.