Putting Gratitude into Practice

For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard

“The discipline of gratitude reminds us how utterly dependent we are on the people and world around us for everything that matters.  From this flows an ethic of gratitude that obligates us to create a future that justifies an increasing sense of gratitude from the human family as a whole.  Gratitude demands that we nurture the world that nurtures us in return.”  — Rev. Galen Guengerich (UU World, Spring 2007)

One Sunday morning last month, in announcing our Faithify project to help the Unitarian Church of Norfolk, Fellowship President Alan Sheeler shared with us the following story.

“Back in 1972 — I was a bit younger then — I spent the Summer in the Southwest, including a month in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. My camp was in the Needles District and was composed of my ’67 Plymouth, a pup tent and my 250cc Suzuki dirt bike. It was heaven. You could only get around by jeep, by dirt bike, or on foot, and I had two of the three.

“I spent most of my time exploring the Needles, but I wanted to do a day trip to the other side of the Colorado River, to Island in the Sky. So the morning of, I filled up my canteen and rode the Suzuki into Moab. I fueled up at the last gas station on the north side of town. Then I was off, and the trip to Island in the Sky was wonderful.

“Now back in the seventies, Canyonlands was a relatively new park, it was August, and there were no facilities on Island in the Sky. All reasons for people not to be there — except for me, of course! But when you’ve spent some time on a dirt bike, you know how far you can get on a tank of gas, so watching the mileage, I knew it was time to turn around. I figured I could get a few extra miles out of this particular tank, but I was wrong. I ran out of gas on Utah Route 191, five or six miles north of Moab.

“I’d been in the desert for a month, so I know I looked a little ‘weathered’. I tried to get the attention of several RV drivers that passed, but no one stopped. I couldn’t abandon my bike, so I started pushing it south. Worst case, I thought I could cover the five or six miles in four hours.

“So I pushed for a while and a couple more RVs passed. At this point I wasn’t even trying to flag them down. I had thought that if you see someone in the desert, pushing something they should be riding, perhaps you’d think they’ve got a problem.

“Presently, an old, beat-up pickup truck, containing one old cowboy, pulled over. Now when I say ‘cowboy’, I mean the real article, not some political pretender. This guy was genuine ‘cowpoke’. He asked what the problem was. I said, ‘Out of gas.’ He said, ‘I’ve got a can of reg-u-lar in the back. Will that do?’ I said, ‘Reg-u-lar will be just fine.’ He handed me the can, and I took just enough to get me to town. Then he pushed the can up so that I ended up with quite a bit more than I needed.

“I thanked him, and then, although gas was only about fifty cents a gallon, pulled a five dollar bill out of my wallet and offered it to him. His help was certainly worth that to me. He pushed it away, and said ‘That’s okay. You just do the same for someone else sometime.’ Unexpected words of wisdom, that I try to live by to this day.”

This story captures the two sides of gratitude identified by Galen Guengerich in his UU World article.  The first side is when we realize how much we depend on other people and on the world to which we all belong.  Stranded miles out of town, Alan realized how much he was at the mercy of others on the road, and was understandably grateful to the one driver who was willing to stop to help him.  But the second side of gratitude is when we realize that it requires us to “pay it forward”, just as the old cowboy charged Alan to do.

This sense of mutuality has long been part of Unitarian Universalism.  Grateful for our congregation as a caring community, we strive, as individuals, to help one another in times of sickness, loss, financial difficulty or other need.  Grateful for the simple gift of life on Earth, we strive, as individuals and as congregations, to live into a deep respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  And grateful for the wider network of Unitarian Universalists and their communities, that allows us to do together what we cannot do by ourselves, we strive, as congregations, to support one another in times of need, particularly when a minister is ill or dies.

Rev. Jennifer Slade

Rev. Jennifer Slade (1959–2014)

We have an opportunity this month to put our gratitude into practice, by living into our mutual promise of covenant.  With the sudden death of their minister, the Rev. Jennifer Slade, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk finds itself in the middle of selling its building and moving to a better (and less prone to flooding!) location while also grieving a profoundly personal and professional loss.  So, as Alan announced last month, the Fellowship has joined with the Williamsburg UUs and other congregations throughout the Tidewater Cluster to create a fund in Jennifer’s memory that will help the Norfolk UUs in their need to move on and to move up.  Thanks to the Unitarian Universalist “crowd-funding” platform known as Faithify, many individual UUs have pledged to contribute to the fund (which has a goal of $10,000 by November 3rd), though a number of congregations will be making collective pledges, too.  To that end, we will share the proceeds of our Sunday morning offering on October 19th with the Reverend Jennifer Slade Memorial Fund.  Let’s show the Norfolk UUs some love, and help them move to higher ground, both literally and spiritually!

UC Norfolk at high tide

Our sister congregation, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk, at high tide.


About acmillard

Andrew serves as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula in Newport News, Virginia.
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