Tag Archives: gratitude

Facebook’s “On This Day” as a Spiritual Practice

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I don’t know exactly when Facebook rolled out its On This Day feature, but it’s become more and more a part of my daily social media routine. It’s been (mostly) a gift to read what was important to me one, two, three or more years ago.

Reactions to On This Day are mixed. Many friends and colleagues have expressed concern that the feature can cause unnecessary pain, especially if people aren’t prepared to be confronted by updates about a marriage that’s now over, or about the life of a beloved person who has died. Also, Facebook updates are non-linear, haphazard even. Dismay over terrorist attacks mingle with reports on our pets. Grief visits us, but it can be nestled between Buzzfeed videos and a recipe for brussels sprouts gratin. Which is part of the beauty of the thing–profound moments mingled with the sacred ordinary. But it can also create emotional whiplash.

For people who simply don’t want to go there, Facebook makes it easy to ignore On This Day. The feature can remind you every day to take a peek at what’s there, but you can turn the notifications off. You can also block updates involving certain people and mute certain dates… though I suspect that’s not foolproof at muting the sad stuff. I miss my dad, not just on his birthday or the day he died, but random days throughout the year.

I suspect many people use social media as a de facto journal to chronicle daily life. In that respect, it’s good to have a way to go back and read… although I wish there were a way to skip easily to any date in your timeline, not just the current one. I also wish you could allow select people to view your On This Day–my husband posts rarely to Facebook but has wished he could easily access mine, especially for the posts about our family.

I believe On This Day is not just a reminder of past events. It can also be a spiritual practice, a way of “listening to your life.” One of the most important practices for our family and for me is the examen, in which we talk about points of gratitude in our day. On This Day is a way of living the examen on a larger scale. Patterns emerge. Situations ripen over a series of days and months, and it can be illuminating to see a snapshot in time when we know the end of the story.

It seems to me there’s a balance to be found between detachment and engagement. On This Day works best for me as a reflective practice when I’ve gotten into the right mental space. I might take a deep breath and spiritually prepare myself for what I’ll see there, and it’s mostly a delightful surprise. But if there are sad things waiting for me there, I want to be detached enough so I don’t replay the heartache–I can acknowledge it and feel whatever new thing I need to feel about it.

But we don’t want to be too detached either, examining our experiences as if we were a historian researching the past. Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt talks about contemplation as a “long, loving look at the real.” Loving means not holding our experiences at arms’ length.

There’s also something to be said for the what we might call holy amnesia. I’m struck by how many annoyances and indignities I was very exercised about at the time, that I not only don’t care about any more, but don’t even remember. That’s such important perspective–and it also impacts what I write today. Will the future me want to read this? Will the future me even care? Those can be helpful questions to keep things in proper proportion.

Do you read On This Day? How do you engage with it?

What’s Saving Me: The Five Minute Journal

This week I’m over at the NEXT Church blog. This fall they’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Here’s my offering.

What’s saving my ministry these days is a five minute journaling practice I’ve been doing each morning (and most evenings) for the past few months. I’ve tried various journaling methods off and on for years. Something about holding the pen in my hand allows me to focus my prayers in a way my monkey mind can’t do by simply sitting quietly. And now that I work from home “for myself,” I have lots of possible things vying for my attention and time. I was looking for something short and focused that could bring clarity and discernment to my day.

8Y0EDX4VP9Many of us are familiar with Julia Cameron’s morning pages, which she calls her “spiritual windshield wipers.” This practice serves the same purpose, but instead of writing stream of consciousness, I write short pithy statements. Whereas morning pages are like an epic poem, this is journaling as haiku. I adapted it from Tim Ferriss, an author and entrepreneur. He’s a little too “guru” for me, but I think he’s hit upon a good structure to get the day started with intention.

Here are the questions for the morning:

Three things for which I’m grateful:
1.
2.
3.

Three things that would make this a fruitful day: These don’t have to be things I want to accomplish, but they usually are. Most of us have way more than three things on our daily to-do list, so it helps to be clear on the most essential items.
1.
2.
3.

An affirmation: 
I am…
I have three kids, so “patience” shows up a lot here.

I’m curious about:
This is something I’ve added recently, thanks to Brené Brown’s work. This is often where I think about my reactions to things and wonder “What was THAT about?!” 

As for the evening practice, it is similar:

Three things to celebrate about the day:
1.
2.
3.

One thing I could have done better:

Those of you who know the Ignatian examen will recognize threads of this practice in these questions. The questions are framed in terms of gratitude, and there is ample space to acknowledge the times I’ve fallen short—to see them written in my own hand, and to let those moments go—to let God absorb and hopefully transform them.

A Sermon in 272 Words

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We don’t have an actual photograph of Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address because the speech was over before the photographer had time to take one.

I’ve been talking about it on Facebook and Twitter for weeks, and here it is, today’s “Gettysburg sermon.” At 272 words, it is the same length as Lincoln’s masterful address, delivered 150 years ago on Tuesday.

Err… let’s just say he had a gift.

(Preacher nerds: you’ll notice I couldn’t resist trying a Lowry loop, even with so few words! Old habits die hard.)

MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
November 17, 2013

Psalm 98

O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

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Here is a psalm for the month of thanksgiving! It is infused with gratitude as the psalmist rhapsodizes about God’s glory, the wonders of creation, and the thankful songs of the people of God. We are sailing along on a swelling sea of words like joy, steadfast love, faithfulness.

And then, like a thud, or like a needle scratching across the record, we’re told:

God is coming to judge us. To judge.

What comes to mind when you hear that word?

Maybe you’re rubbing your hands together imagining “bad guys” getting what they deserve, and “good guys” getting their reward, courtesy of God’s perfect justice.

Maybe you’re making a mental tally of your secret transgressions, squirming, wondering what side of the ledger sheet you will come out on.

Maybe you’re disturbed by the idea of a judging God.

Note that, in the midst of God coming as judge, the psalmist doesn’t tell us to shape up…
or beg us to repent.
He doesn’t even urge us to get to work doing what God commands.

Instead, he asks us to sing.

God will come—God does come—among us. But we don’t worry or calculate. We don’t try to measure up or crack God’s code. We simply inhale deeply, breathing in God’s spirit, and sing—with our voices, with our lives, and here with this community.

Yesterday’s health fair, and last week’s CROP hunger walk, are more than mission activities. They are songs of praise, joyfully offered to a God who promises to be with us always, who calls us not to despair, but to offer a new song.

Thanks be to God.

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UPDATE: Here are three additional Gettysburg sermons, from Jason Cashing, Rob Jackson, and Jen Hackbarth. Thanks for sharing, everyone!

Five Ways to Make the Most of the 30 Days of Thankfulness

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It’s November, the month of Thanksgiving, which means that folks on Facebook are celebrating the 30 Days of Thankfulness. Last week a friend me asked if I knew the origins of this practice. I don’t know where it started, but I’m touched that she would associate it with me. The 30 days is a burst of positive energy in an often snarky and cranky social media universe…

…Generally.

However.

My friend Marci has decided not to participate because of the potential for bragbooking. I’m sympathetic to her concerns. My next book looks at technology and digital culture from a spiritual perspective.  As I research, I’m finding various studies suggesting that Facebook has the potential to decrease people’s happiness. One person’s gratitude is another person’s braggadocio. We end up comparing other people’s outsides to our insides, or as I saw it expressed somewhere, everyone else’s sizzle reel to our blooper reel.

But I’m not sure the answer, for me, anyway, is to sit out the practice altogether. After all—and Marci points this out herself—gratitude is a spiritual practice.

Where’s the challenge in being thankful when you’re on top of the world?  It’s considerably harder to see gratitude in ordinary life as it chugs along. And when things are downright crappy, gratitude can be transforming, the tiny candle you wrap your fingers around to keep the darkness at bay.

Social media is here to stay. People are welcome to dip in and out of it, or take long breaks, or hide the gratitude posts that make them crazy, or whatever they need to do for their own mental and spiritual health. As someone who takes tech sabbaths every week, I believe you’re under no obligation to consume social media the way other people do. But it is a part of our lives. So it seems worthwhile to practice engaging with it in ways that are hospitable to others and gracious to yourself.

So here’s how the 30-day gratitude challenge can be helpful and not an exercise in bragbooking. I offer these as someone who studies social media and digital culture, and as a pastor who has taught and practiced the Ignatian examen (a practice of gratitude and discernment) for many years.

1. Go beyond the obvious. At the women’s retreat I led this weekend, I gave them an icebreaker question to answer in small groups: “It’s just not Thanksgiving without…”  But I specifically told them, “You can’t say ‘family’ or ‘my grandkids.'” I hope this caveat invited them to share something more specific and personal.

My friend Kristen posted a great moment of thankfulness this weekend: “Hair – as a fresh ‘do can literally change you. [My hairdresser] has been a steady presence in my life since 2004 when I wandered into the salon where she worked. 9 years, 2 salons, 4 jobs (me), 5 kids (hers plus mine) and countless haircuts, highlights and hairstyles later – I’m proud to call her friend and stylist extraordinaire.”

No bragbooking there. Just a touching tribute by a fabulous, sassy gal. Kristen’s update invites me into gratitude for the folks who provide services for me and the friendships that can develop.

It also makes me consider getting highlights. Again.

2. Think small. The examen is meant to be a daily practice. And often our most grateful moment is not the biggest headline of the day, but the moment that took our breath away. Maybe you got a huge raise at work (I know, in this economy? hey, it could happen), but the breathtaking moment was the act of kindness you saw in the line at Starbucks. Gratitude can be a trickster.

3. Be specific. “I’m thankful for my health” may be true. And for someone who’s battled cancer, or recovered from an injury, that’s huge. But consider how your update sounds to a friend whose health is a source of stress, or who’s in a chronic struggle with an illness. Instead, how about a specific thing your health allowed you to enjoy today? I’m thankful that I could pick up my big kindergartner today without my back going out.

4. Violate the Zaxxon rule. At the end of every Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, the host and guests share “what’s making us happy this week.” The idea is to recommend interesting movies, TV or books to the audience. During an early episode Stephen Thompson gushed about the Zaxxon video game he’d recently purchased. Later the group realized that it wasn’t the best “what’s making me happy,” since it’s not like everyone can go out and buy a Zaxxon machine. They instituted the Zaxxon rule to keep them accountable to share stuff that other people could reasonably partake of.

When it comes to gratitude, we should violate, rather than follow, the Zaxxon rule. That cuts down on comparisons. I am grateful for the flame of color from the Japanese maple in my front yard. That’s very particular to my situation. You don’t feel bad for not having a Japanese maple in your yard, do you?

5. Confront the bragbooker. Do it publicly only if you can do it lightheartedly, otherwise in private. Is it crazy to think we could do this, in the spirit of authenticity and friendship? Maybe. I realize this is hard. But if my posts are providing a stumbling block to someone, I want to know it. We’re all works in progress, folks. We can help one another along.

Are you participating in the 30 days of gratefulness? Why or why not?

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photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc

Friday Link Love: Science Videos, Memoir Writing, and Gratitude

First links first: Presby-peeps, have you registered for the NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte? It’s going to be a fun, creative, hope-filled gathering.

Go register now, because early bird rates end next week. I’ll be here when you get back.

OK. Away we go:

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Is Atheism a Religion? — New York Times

A variety of perspectives from lots of smart folks, including Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass.

He’s not quoted here, but I am a fan of Alain de Botton and his School of Life for Atheists. (I linked to him yesterday in my post about why atheists need holidays.)

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Salon’s Guide to Writing a Memoir — Salon.com

H/t to Katherine Willis Pershey for linking to this wisdom recently.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Accept the limitations and boredom of your life as the challenge of writing. Accept your profound lameness as the wages of your craft. The problem is never that your life isn’t interesting enough, it’s that you aren’t looking (or writing) hard enough.

Sabbath in the Suburbs is memoir-ish, and I gotta say, I’m pretty sick of myself. My next book will not be a memoir.  But I still love reading good ones. Good ones.

Avi Steinberg:

If you’re not sure about the difference between publishing a story and therapy, you especially should find a good shrink.

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50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World — Twisted Sifter

The most useful list I’ve seen. OK, posts like this don’t solve world hunger, but they give me a weird sense of hope. Human beings are so resourceful:

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Why Is There a Gap Between What We Feel and What We Express When It Comes to Gratitude? — Science and Religion Today

A recent study sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation found a dramatic gap between the gratitude people say they feel and what they express. In the large and demographically balanced survey, fully 90 percent of respondents said they were grateful for their immediate family, and 87 percent were grateful for their close friends. But when it came to expressing it, the numbers dropped almost in half. Only 52 percent of women and 44 percent of men said they express gratitude on a regular basis.

So why the big gap? Several factors come into play. Many people assume that those close to them already know how they feel, so they don’t need to state their appreciation. They are, of course, quite wrong.

More at the link.

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Australia Banned Assault Weapons. American Can Too — New York Times

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

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How to Write a Muffin Recipe — Deb Perelman, Slate

I’m a big Smitten Kitchen fan and a HUGE muffin fan. Muffins are the perfect food. They are easy to make, bake up quickly, come in infinite varieties, and have built-in portion control. The recipe for Plum Poppy-Seed Muffins looks wonderful, but just as delightful is Deb’s description of her trial and error and her basic formula for create-your-own muffin flavors. This is kitchen improv at its finest.

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100 Best YouTube Videos for Science Teachers — Boogie Man Journal

Science teachers, and parents:

16.) Earth-Building Wounds
Scientists are studying the unique geological properties of Iceland in order to better understand how tectonic plates form and shift to permanently change the shape of the planet.
17.) The Wright Brothers Discover Aspect Ratio
John D. Anderson at the National Air and Space Museum provides an interesting talk on the Wright Brothers and their indispensible contributions to the history of human flight.
18.) Through the Wormhole: DNA
Morgan Freeman(!!!!!!) narrates a brief clip on the structure and importance of DNA. Short, but soothing. Also educational. Also Morgan Freeman.

Much, much more at the link.

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Have a great weekend, everyone. I’m off to Windy City tomorrow, where I’ll be leading a pastors’ retreat on Sabbath-keeping. Once I get back I’ll be preparing for Preacher Camp. So blogging will be light next week. Peace!