Gratitude: Sacred Visitation

by Brittany Longsdorf, Multifaith Chaplain- Bates College

Every Thanksgiving my family goes around the table and each person says something that they are grateful for before we sink our teeth into some turkey and stuffing. At times it has felt perfunctory, and eventually it became redundant. The ‘thankful for friends and family’ answer became so common that in recent years we implemented a new rule that there could be no repeats, so each person had to think of something different to be thankful for. A couple of years ago a friend of mine said they were grateful for a fork and praised other utensils around the table. Gratitude in its many forms, silly and serious, is a deeply important thing to consider during the holiday season.

This advent season, in the transition from Thanksgiving to Christmastide, I want us to consider moments of gratitude as visitations from the Sacred. When I started out in the work of college chaplaincy I became consistently overwhelmed with putting on multiple programs every week, offering pastoral care, coordinating worship, and doing higher education committee work. It surprised me that while doing the work I loved, I found my self in a very dark spiritual place. Somehow the rote maneuvers of program planning and the massive amount of logistical details to keep track of clouded my view of sacred purpose. I sought out a spiritual mentor and asked the question that had been trembling in my heart for months, “Do I even believe in God anymore?”

She responded with a story. When my mentor was a young chaplain starting out in New York City, she also felt the same overwhelming sense of distance from the Divine. She was riding a train home late one night from a program and in her train car saw a father and daughter all dressed up and laughing; it looked like they had just come home from a Broadway show. The little girl roared with laughter and held her father’s hand tightly as the train swayed on the tracks. Something inside my mentor felt the urge to just whisper a soft “thanks” into the universe. “That’s how I know there is a God”, she said to me. Moments of gratitude are sacred visitations.

When the Angel visits Mary she is full of fear, awe, and wonder. She is reminded of the wide and deep webs of the Divine that surrounds her. When we feel those deep moments of gratitude and whisper ‘thank you’ into the ear of the universe, we embody that same revelation, that sacred visitation that reminds us of our purpose and our Creator. This advent season let us readily recognize those moments of gratitude and be grateful.

Spiritual Practice:
“Moments of gratitude are sacred visitations.” Spend a few moments allowing gratitude to emerge within you. For what this day do you whisper “thank you”?
Where else is God revealed to you in the Advent season? What are the sacred visitations in your life?

Formed By Each Other

Lenten Practice: Examen
Daily Act: Reflect on your life and consider the people who have helped you grow in your faith. Write a letter of gratitude to a person who has been formative to you.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.


by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The soul is a pliable substance
We are formed by each other
Into holy shapes
Over time

If I were to begin to express
My abounding gratitude
For the many other souls
Who have participated
In shaping my own
It might go something like this:

Thank you for seeing me
Really seeing me
For taking a risk on the worth
And potential
You thought you saw
For investing yourself
So whole-heartedly
In the life of another
With no guarantee
Of anything in return

Thank you for awakening
Gifts lying dormant
And tending them
To fullest life in me

Thank you for the ways
You assured me
In each moment of doubt
Affirming my questions
As faithful
The questions themselves
Pathways into the future
I could not yet see
But could somehow still trust

Each word a shaping
Each moment a molding
Not into your likeness
But into the shape of the One
Shaping you
Shaping us

Thank you for what you never
Said out-loud
But lived
Which I noticed
Which I admired
Which I desired to live
Which spoke louder
Than anything

“You hold precious lives in your hands. Be gentle and gracious with one another.” Doctrine & Covenants Section 162

Sacred Restraint

Lenten Practice: Fasting
Daily Act: When we move toward lives of simplicity, we use less of the Earth’s precious resources as well. Today, choose to conserve in a way that will be a blessing to creation. Decrease or eliminate your use of electricity, water, or fuel for one day. Repeat this week’s prayer phrase throughout your day.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.


By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

One of my first revelatory moments of recognizing the incarnate God came in the mundane choice to recycle. I held the plastic bottle in my hands and faced the temptation of convenience. While the trash bin was right beside me, the recycle bin was across the room and around the corner.

A phrase from my eco-theology class drifted into my consciousness, “The whole world is the body of God.” (Sallie McFague)

If the whole earth is sacred, then earth care is also prayer.
Each act of earth care is healing, co-creation, relationship.

I chose to walk to the recycle bin, each step prayerful. I held the bottle above the bin with a ceremonial slowness and released it with a full-hearted intention. It is difficult to explain the peace and purpose that can come from living in a way that recognizes and honors our inherent interconnectedness with all life. That this is biological and spiritual evokes awe in me, and abounding gratitude.

Today our act of emptying is linked to a prayerful act of earth healing. In Red, Terry Tempest Williams suggests, “We have forgotten the option of restraint.” We have become so accustomed to convenience that the option of intentionally restraining seems almost foolish. Why would I choose to sit in the dark one night when I can turn on the light? Why would I choose to walk somewhere when I can drive? It is countercultural to imagine that restraint from what is readily accessible could be a form of prayer.

And consider this: What gift could a night in the dark bring? If you unplugged for an evening, what might be yearning to emerge within you that is currently being drowned out by the constant murmur of the television? If you chose to walk instead of drive, what might you notice along the way? What new neighbor might you meet? What new insight might a few moments of fresh air bring?

Lent is a call to Christian simplicity. We enter this time to remove every distraction from fullest life in God… every distraction.

Terry Tempest Williams describes her choice to move to the desert as seeking the more of life in a deliberate emptiness. “We wanted more. We wanted less. We wanted more time, fewer distractions. We wanted more time together, time to write, to breathe, to be more conscious with our lives. We wanted to be closer to wild places where we could walk and witness the seasonal changes, even the changing constellations… In the vastness of the desert, I want to create my days as a ceremony around s l o w n e s s ….”

While many of us can’t just move to the desert, we can begin to see more clearly the link between our spiritual health and the health of the planet we call home.

How might the more we are seeking be living within the invitation of less?

REMINDER: March 1, 2015 is the registration deadline for our upcoming Lenten Retreat with Presiding Evangelist, David Brock. The theme is INTO THE WILDERNESS (March 13-15). If you are seeking a deeper exploration of the season of Lent in your life and yearn to grow closer with God, we would love to share this experience with you! Email if you have any questions.

Lenten Spiritual Retreat with Presiding Evangelist David Brock.  March 13-15, 2015 Click here to register!
Lenten Spiritual Retreat with Presiding Evangelist David Brock.
March 13-15, 2015
Click here to register!