Waking to Gratefulness, and Other News

June Meanderings

“Thank you.”

For years now, these have been my first words each morning as I reach out towards the cup of coffee my husband offers me. In that bleary, not-quite-awake state, my first thought is of thanks. 

I then get out of bed and sit in what I call my “prayer chair” in a private corner of the room, and in between sips of that freshly-made coffee, I write in my journal about the previous day. My dreamy state begins to sharpen its focus as I put words on the page. 

Though I’ve done this practice of morning writing for ages, my method has recently been shaped by the Ignatian examen. The examen is typically done at the end of the day, but I find it helpful for this to be my waking exercise. I scan through the events of the previous day, mundane though they made be, and I notice how I’ve responded to them and what feelings they brought up in me. The frustrations, the joys, the anxieties, the hope. 

Even throughout the months of the past year when I’ve barely left the house, I found so much food for thought in what might have seemed to be the most ordinary moments. The tiny things that bring me frustration – the dog’s whine that grates at my ears just so, the kids’ play that turns rough, the dirty clothes left all over the floor… again. Sometimes I deal well with these frustration and work through them patiently and intentionally. Other times, I respond with angry outbursts that I later feel sheepish about.

As I scan through my day, I’m grateful for the opportunity to pay attention to all this, even if it’s not always pleasant, because I don’t let it slip by unnoticed. Noticing it gives my frustration and anger a voice, even if it’s just in the private pages of my notebook.

And as I scan through the day, sipping at that gift of a coffee, I also recall tiny moments of joy, contentedness, healing, hope. The spontaneous hug from my son when he senses I’m stressed out by the hundred demands bombarding me at once. The conversation at bathtime with my daughter as she opens up to me about her schoolday dramas. The light shining on the flowering bushes I planted last November, showing off their vibrant blooms for the first time ever. Singing grace at the family dinner table laden with the same comfort food I grew up with. Any one of these moments might stand out to me as I write, and I find myself marveling at the ordinary graces of the day. 

I love starting the day in this way, and there are nights when I’m eager to go to sleep just so I can begin all over again in the morning. By the end of the day, my thankful posture has sagged a little, and the weight of the world has left me feeling weary. But in the morning, I get to start fresh once more. And it feels like such a gift, to be given that chance to begin anew. 

In these early morning moments, I begin the process of waking to gratefulness. 

Waking to gratefulness is a life-long process. My morning practice is really only just that – practice. I’m rehearsing something that is a life practice – building the skills of gratefulness that I believe, and many others believe, is a key to spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

In the podcast series I have started, “Psalms for the Spirit,” I explore spirituality and resilience through the lens of the Psalms. And, gratefulness is something that has come up multiple times throughout the conversations I’ve had so far. 

Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and author on the spiritual life, talked about a gratefulness for our place on the earth, and for the role we’re able to play in the cycles, seasons, and rhythms of life

Avivah Zornberg, Jewish Torah scholar and theologian, noted the gratefulness that comes from reciting the Hallel (Psalms of praise) in the context of retelling to Exodus story each year at Passover

Sara Cook, specialist on trauma resilience, discusses gratefulness as a tool for building resilience in our daily life, and how practicing habits of gratefulness can keep us in our “resilient zone,” where we’re better able to handle what life puts before us each day. 

Pádraig Swan, trained in the Jesuit tradition, talks about expressing gratefulness through the Ignatian spiritual practice of the Examen. 

It’s becoming more and more clear to me that gratefulness is essential for our wellbeing, in so many ways. 

I often feel a little regretful when my blissful morning of coffee / waking to gratefulness comes to an end, and I inevitably slide into a less tuned-in, less grounded, less inspired state. Sometimes I wonder whether it was even real, if I can lose hold of it so easily. 

But, I know that this morning practice is slowly shaping me and transforming me into a more grateful person. Grateful not only for the moments that are obviously good, but the moments that surprise me with their tenderness, healing and depth. The moments when tears spring to my eyes because I’ve been moved by something I might not even be able to express at the time. 

Perhaps you also have daily habits of waking to gratefulness that have helped you through this pandemic year or other times in your life. I’d love to hear about them in the comments, if you’d be willing to share. 

May we all wake more fully each day into gratefulness for this life. 

Ponderings for your Path

Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and scan through the events of your day - either today or yesterday.

  • Recall the happenings as chronologically as you can, remembering any details that come to mind.

  • As you reflect back, notice how you feel when you recall the details of your day.

  • What brought you joy, contentedness, healing, hope?

  • What brought you frustration, anxiety, fear, anger?

  • Is there anything you feel drawn to act on - to make amends, to forgive another or yourself?

  • Is there anything you feel grateful for now that you have taken the time to revisit your day?

ONLINE QUIET DAY12th June 2021 (Trans-Atlantic)

I’ll be leading a virtual Quiet Day on June 12th. I’ve finally warmed to Zoom gatherings, as long as they’re held as an intentional space for sharing and connection. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a few such groups that met regularly over the pandemic period and I have found them incredibly life-giving. So, I’ve decided to schedule a few Quiet Days for those who would like to hold such an intentional space for listening and sharing. The first one is coming up in June, and I will announce the dates for one in September as well. See details about the June Quiet Day below. Follow this link to book on Eventbrite.

Psalms for the Spirit Podcast

After taking a much needed breather, my podcast is back with some new episodes. I began my exploration into podcasting back in January and went on a streak of ten episodes (which I then called Season One), which was a rich learning experience for me. I loved it immensely, but I also needed to find a way to do it that was more sustainable. During May I recorded five conversations that I’ll be producing and releasing this month, and I plan to record, produce and release 5 more in the autumn to complete a second season.

Would you like to know who’s coming up in the first half of Season Two?

  • You may have already heard Paul Hutchinson in Episode 11, therapist and mediator, in the conversation I put out last week. He has some brilliant insights on how we are loved in our unfixed state, and I loved hearing about his personal story of being drawn to the “new song.”

  • Coming up next on Episode 12 will be Sarah Griffith Lund, a minister and author whose life work is in breaking the silence about mental illness. Her story is moving, and the connections she makes with the Psalms offer a profound invitation.

  • Next in Episode 13 we will hear from John Boopalan, a theologian and academic who, in the lines of Isabelle Wilkerson’s book Caste, calls out the atrocities of the caste system in India. Through the lens of Dalit theology (the theology that comes out of the Dalit or “untouchable” community within the Indian caste system), John explores the important of naming grief as a step toward a more just society, and how the Psalms help us in that process.

  • In Episode 14 Brother Thierry, a French Benedictine monk based in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, shares about the experience of praying through the Psalter every two weeks in the monastery, and he makes a striking comparison between Psalms and silence in helping us to acknowledge the truth about ourselves before God.

  • And in Episode 15 Denise Bradley, a Corrymeela staff member with an expertise in trauma’s impact on marginalized people such as victims of domestic abuse and refugees/assylum seekers, shares how the Psalms have helped her personally in dealing with traumatic stress and fear, and we discuss spirituality’s place in attending the stages of trauma in order to promote healing.

I’m looking forward to releasing these episodes in the coming weeks, and I hope you’ll follow along. You can subscribe to the Podcast at Apple, Spotify, Google or anywhere you find your podcasts, and you can also find them on the Podcast website.

New Album, Coming Soon!

After a period of hibernation, we are now back in the studio to do some more work on Celtic Psalms Volume 4! I am beyond excited about this. Being able to do music again, in a way that is safe under the current restrictions, meant the world to me. If you’d like to be among the first to hear it when it’s released, you can preorder here!

As You Walk

And now, may God bless us on our journeys

May God wake us more fully,

and open our eyes and our hearts

to the small gifts of each day.

May God break through

at the most ordinary of moments,

reminding us that we are loved

we are accepted

we are not alone.

Amen.