These are difficult times. The world has seen worse, but there is no denying the fear, the sadness and the general feeling of desperation that has become so prevalent these days.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, David Brooks writes that the “percentage of high school students who report ‘persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness’ shot up from 26% in 2009 to 44% in 2021.” And no wonder. Look at the world they are about to inherit. Racism, antisemitism and all other forms of intolerance have grown in degree and ugliness.
Hate crimes are on the rise. Gun sales are surging. Mass shootings are an almost daily occurrence. Democracy is threatened not only in distant lands but now in our own country too. Images of horrific slaughter in the Middle East dominate the news, and the ravages of climate change are now part of the daily weather report. No wonder teenagers are feeling sad and hopeless. Many of the rest of us are feeling this too.
Only now it is Thanksgiving. It is the day we count our blessings, the day when we express our gratitude. How do we do that, though? Somehow the word “gratitude” does not seem to fit with a world of conspiracy theories, polarization, mass shootings, racism and hate crimes. It seems so out of place. Is it possible to be grateful even in difficult times?
It is. In fact, we need gratitude more than ever. We need it desperately. It is precisely in times like these that gratitude is most required. It is essential because, with every word of gratitude we express, we reach out toward the light. By naming our blessings, we break the pattern of misery and despair.
Gratitude is the very medicine we need to heal a broken world. It opens us up. It frees us to see the world and each other with new eyes and new appreciation. It shows us possibilities. It offers us hope.
Let me give you an example. This past Sunday afternoon a very special event took place, South County’s annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. As hosted by St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Gilroy and sponsored by the Interfaith CommUNITY of South Country and the Interfaith Clergy Alliance, this is a gathering of many faiths. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Christians of all stripes were in attendance.
The theme was “Connected in Gratitude and Love.” That means we came together both out of gratitude and in gratitude. We came together out of gratitude for our individual lives, for our separate faiths, and for the love that those faiths call us to embody.
But we also came together in gratitude for all those willing to join us to share this gratitude with one another. That’s because the more we find to be grateful for, the more we want to share it with others. And the more we share, the more we find to share. It seems a miracle. We can be grateful for that too.
Father Ernest Boyer is the Rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Gilroy and an active member of the Interfaith Clergy Alliance of South County. He can be contacted at [email protected].