Gratitude and Generosity: online service for Sunday 4th December 2022

Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words by Francis Terry


We have been brought to where we now are,

with hearts sensitive to sympathy,

and still reaching out in pursuit of happiness.

Therefore, Creative Spirit, we trust ourselves

to you for the time to come,

and ask you to fulfil our heart’s desire.

Carry us forward to where we may

find again all the good that

we have met with on our journey,

with the cure of every ill, and

the justification of every hope,

and where we may share the happiness

of all beings, with no end

of their number and variety.

Give light upon each person’s path and

show us the next step towards our destination.


Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point).


Come into this house of virtual worship.

May we enter this hour with joy,

May we rejoice in our fellowship,

Even if we cannot share the same space.

May we hold each other in love,

May we listen with the ears of our hearts.

Come! Let us worship.


Opening Prayer


Spirit of Life and Love,

be with us as we gather for worship,

each in our own place.

Help us to feel a sense of community,

even though we are physically apart.

Help us to care for each other,

in this world in which Covid has not yet gone away,

and the clouds of war hover.

May we keep in touch however we can,

and help each other, however we may.

May we remember that

caution is still needed,

that close contact is still unwise.

Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have

and to respect the wishes of others.

May we hold in our hearts all those

who are grieving, lost, alone,

victims of violence and war,

suffering in any way,



Reading from Think Indigenous: Native American Spirituality for a Modern World by Doug Good Feather, quoted by Richard Rohr, 22.11.2022


Each and every morning offers us a chance to start anew, fresh, and to begin again. Each morning when we wake—should we choose to listen—is a message from the Creator to remember the privilege we were given of waking up. It’s a reminder to get up and prepare our self, to honor our self, to go out into the world, to connect with Mother Earth and the hearts of other beings, to inspire and encourage those who cross our paths, and most importantly, to enjoy life.


Gratitude and generosity are similar virtues, but they differ in that gratitude is an internal characteristic and generosity is our external expression of our sense of gratitude. Basically, gratitude is how we feel, and generosity is how we express that feeling out in the world.


When we engage with the world from a place of gratitude, it’s the difference between trying to make something happen and allowing something to happen. The defining difference between effort and effortlessness is the virtue of gratitude. We see the quotes and memes from the sages and gurus that talk about gratitude. But why is gratitude such a core concept of joy, contentment, and well-being in our life? The ancestors tell us there are two primary reasons. The first is that a person cannot exist in a place of fear and true gratitude at the same time. The second is that gratitude is the doorway to divine intuition, which allows us to be guided by our connection with the Creator.


Alternative Lord’s Prayer


Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,

may we be aware of your presence in our lives.

May our world be blessed.

May our daily needs be met,

and may our shortcomings be forgiven,

as we forgive those of others.

Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,

the inspiration and guidance to do right,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.

May we have compassion for all living beings,

and receive whatever life brings,

with courage and trust. Amen

Reading from Think Indigenous: Native American Spirituality for a Modern World by Doug Good Feather, quoted by Richard Rohr, 22.11.2022


Gratitude moves stagnant energy when we’re feeling stuck in life. The simple act of practicing gratitude disrupts negative thoughts and changes our mindset to see the world in a positive way. Not only are we more attractive to others when we live in gratitude, but the most ordinary things can become extraordinary, creating a fuller, more beautiful expression of our life.


You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Things don’t happen to us, they happen for us.” Gratitude is the foundation of that adage. It means that our mindset has to be that the universe is generally conspiring and working in our favor. Frequently, when something that we perceive as “bad” happens to us, we let it affect us in a highly negative way. But if we interact with the world from a place of gratitude, when something happens that others may perceive as “bad,” we just see that experience as “interesting.” We are curious about why something happens the way it does, and in expressing that curiosity, we’re actively seeking the part of the experience that we’re grateful for.


Prayer from In one direction by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps (adapted)


Spirit of Life, we are grateful for the things we need for our existence –

our food and drink, our shelter from the storm,

the clothes on our backs, the basics that everyone on earth should have.

But, as Jesus said, ‘life is more than food’.

Help us to receive with gratitude

the things we need to live:

the loving touch, the words of comfort, the vision of earth’s glory,

the sense of your presence in all Creation.

Above all, help us to know you in ourselves and in those we meet –

though sometimes we make it hard.

Our lives move in one direction, there is no going back.

May joy be ours on the journey,

joy in sharing it with those who share the Way.

However long the road, however hard,

help us, amid the tears, always

to find reasons for laughter, song, and praise as we travel together.

May it be so, Amen


Reading Gratitude by Nicky Jenkins, from With Heart and Mind 2


It is often difficult to be thankful. I sometimes wonder if it is part of the English habit of modesty and reserve that encourages this. ‘You have a lovely house,’ says the visitor. ‘No, no,’ we demur. ‘It has all sorts of things wrong with it.’ Well, to agree that we have a lovely house would not be modest, and we don’t want anybody to think we might be stuck-up, or to envy us for our wealth and nice things.


But do we carry this over into other areas of our life? To accept and be thankful for our blessings requires a proper humility, not a false one, which is in any case a form of arrogance. By acknowledging the many good things already in our lives, we are better able to let go of that striving for even better, even more possessions, which seems to have become a part of our Western society. When we are able to acknowledge that we do indeed have an abundance of material wealth, perhaps we will be able to give more away, and to share our resources.


And it is not only our material possessions that we should be aware of, but also the rewards of the spirit. If we set aside time daily to be thankful for our material possessions and spiritual growth, then we start to change.


I have found that remembering with gratitude the gifts of the day, before I sleep, counteracts my anxiety and concerns, and keeps me in touch with the truth that I am loved, and helps me to trust in life. There is nothing very new or profound in this idea, but I believe, if practised regularly, it could transform our outlook on, and attitude to, life; and make the world a better place.


Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Nicky Jenkins, adapted)


Spirit of Life and Love,


Too often we focus on what is wrong.

Teach us to focus on what is right,

and to finish each day in gratitude.


Too often we look to the future in fear.

Teach us to expect joy,

and to look forward to what may come.


Too often we try to control our lives.

Teach us to trust in life,

and to welcome the gifts without fear.


Too often we close down the doors of our hearts.

Teach us to risk opening them,

and to receive love.




May our hearts and minds and spirits be open to all that is good in our lives. Amen


Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address Gratitude and Generosity


I’ve just got back from an early morning walk around the village, and the sun was shining (so nice after all the rain we’ve had over the past couple of weeks!), the sky was a pale blue, and I was amazed by the number and variety of flowers still growing at this late season. The birds were singing and I exchanged cheerful “good mornings” with the dog walkers I passed. It was just gorgeous.


At one point on the walk, I stopped and gave thanks for the beauty around me. As Meister Eckhart advised, if thank you is the only prayer you put up, it is enough. It seems to me that there are so many things to be grateful for in our lives.


I know that not everyone will agree, but I firmly believe that gratitude, which is another way of saying ‘giving thanks’, is a spiritual practice which can transform our lives, if we let it. It is only too easy to focus on the things that are going wrong for us at any time – particularly as we get older. Parts of our bodies ache or give us more severe pain; we are perhaps not sleeping as well as we used to; and some days, just getting up and facing the day can be an effort.


I guess it depends very much on how we look at the world, on our perceptions of it and our place in it. There is a lovely quotation by the Romantic poet, William Blake, which reads, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.”


I think that the “doors of perception” he refers to are our senses, which may be “cleansed” through spiritual awareness and through moments of grace. At such time, we may experience the ordinary world, everyday events, with a heightened awareness and infinite gratitude. Which may in turn enable us to respond with generosity to those around us.


Such an experience might occur when we are out in the natural world, and are brought up standing by the singular beauty of a sunrise, or a waterfall, or a single flower in all its wondrous complexity, or a mountain. Or by the sight of a star bearing bright witness in the darkening sky. Or by the sound of a beautiful song or piece of music. The song Pilgrim, by Enya has been doing this to me over the past few days. And I can remember bending over my sleeping children and being filled with so much love, that I felt my heart might burst.


I do believe that gratitude and an awareness of grace could transform our world, if we let them. We just have to be awake to the possibilities and aware when the moments arrive. Because come they will. And they are blessings. Sacramental vision is available to all of us.


As Nicky Jenkins wrote, in the words that formed our Time of Stillness and Reflection,

“Too often we focus on what is wrong. Teach us to focus on what is right, and to finish each day in gratitude.” There are many ways we can put this wisdom into practice in our daily lives. For example, if I’ve sent someone an e-mail, asking for some information, and they don’t get back to me straight away, I’m in a fever of impatience and fed-upness, waiting for the response. Whereas, I should actually be grateful for the wonder that is e-mail, which makes instant communication with multiple people possible. And for computers in general, which make my life as a minister, so easy (comparatively speaking)! I cannot imagine how much more difficult my life would have been in pre-computer days (or rather, I can – every letter would have had to be typed laboriously by hand, stuck in an envelope, and posted, with no surety as to how long it would take to get there). Whereas with e-mail, to give just one example, I can send out a communication to lots of people at the same time, just by clicking on the Send icon. Or if I want to juggle around the order of ideas in this address, I just need to cut a paragraph, and paste it in elsewhere, rather than having to tear it up and re-write it. It really is marvellous, in the best sense of that word – full of marvel.


So why not give it a go? Make a conscious effort to look around your life every day and find something to be grateful for. If it is something that someone has done for you, thank them for it, and give them a smile, or send them a card. If it is something less tangible, thank God for it. Because what Eleanor H. Porter wrote all those years ago in Pollyanna is true: “When you look for the bad, expecting it, you will get it. When you know you will find the good—you will get that…” And even in these unsettled days, there is still so much good in the world.


It really does work – our lives can be made happier by practicing gratitude. There are many ways we can do it – we might have a writing practice, of recording what we feel grateful for. Or we might decide to put aside a few minutes every day to remember what has gone right in our lives, that day. Some people do this at the start of their evening meal. Others have a ‘Blessings Jar’, and every day they write something they are grateful for on a little slip of paper, put it in, and then go through them at the end of the year, or whenever they are feeling down. Give it a go – because to quote Pollyanna once more, “there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.”


I found Doug Good Feather’s pairing of gratitude and generosity fascinating. Particularly when he wrote, “Gratitude and generosity are similar virtues, but they differ in that gratitude is an internal characteristic and generosity is our external expression of our sense of gratitude. Basically, gratitude is how we feel, and generosity is how we express that feeling out in the world.”


But are we less aware of it? Of the need to respond to the things we are grateful for with generosity? I think we may be. I certainly am – when I checked on my blog for posts on either virtue just now, I found I had blogged about being grateful no less than thirty-three times, but only once about generosity.


Mother Teresa once wrote, “He who gives with joy gives the most.” This view of the spirit of giving (another way of describing generosity) chimes in well with Maimonides’ Ladder of Charity, which I first came across when I did the UK Unitarian Build Your Own Theology course some years ago. Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides) was a 12th century Jewish rabbi, physician and philosopher, one of the greatest Hebrew scholars. He compiled a vast mass of Jewish oral law into the Mishneh Torah, also called The Strong Hand.  One of his best known writings is The Golden Ladder of Charity, in which he ranked the spirit of giving or charity or generosity as follows:


  1. To give reluctantly, the gift of the hand, but not of the heart.
  2. To give cheerfully, but not in proportion to need.
  3. To give cheerfully and proportionately, but not unsolicited.
  4. To give cheerfully, proportionately and unsolicited, but to put the gift into the poor person’s hand, thus creating shame.
  5. To give in such a way that the distressed may know their benefactor, without being known to him or her.
  6. To know the objects of our bounty, but remain unknown to them.
  7. To give so that the benefactor may not know those whom he or she has relieved, and they shall not know him or her.
  8. To prevent poverty by teaching a trade, setting a man or woman up in business, or in some way preventing the need for charity.


He says that giving is most blessed and most acceptable when the donor remains completely anonymous. There is a lot of food for thought here. We in the privileged West are very good at giving “aid” to those less fortunate than ourselves, but very often our motivation is not pure – part of it is to make *ourselves* feel better. It is early December and the charities are in full swing with their annual appeals to our generosity. Because it is well known that during the lead up to Christmas, people tend to respond more generously to those who are worse off than themselves. And most charitable giving these days is on level seven of Maimonides’ ladder (except that most of us rarely give unsolicited, so perhaps we’re only at level three).


And the absolute best way of giving, the most compassionate and generous response to need is, as Maimonides says, to bring someone out of poverty by setting them up to function independently, so that they no longer need our “charity”. Oxfam offers us the ability to do this – every year for the past decade, I have bought my sister in law and her wife such a gift. It works very simply: you choose which gift you’d like the recipient to receive e.g. help with education, a goat, help with clean water, then donate the requisite amount on behalf of the person you are buying it for. You then get a card from Oxfam to give to your loved one, so that although they do not receive a gift themselves, they know that they have helped to end poverty and violence in the developing world.


Gratitude and generosity – two spiritual practices which can help make our world a better, happier, kinder place.


Closing Words


Spirit of Life and Love,

May we be grateful for the very much we already have

and may we respond with generosity

to the needs of others less fortunate than ourselves.

May we return to our everyday world refreshed,

may we share the love we feel,

may we look out for each other,

and may we keep up our hearts,

now and in the days to come,



Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley