I normally open my morning prayers focusing on gratitude. This season of Lent,, I am spending a bit more time for no good reason but in that it feels good. In the wake of our world health crisis, balancing our right concern with a spirit of gratitude seems like a smart move. Note: balancing a sober view of reality with a deep sense of gratitude is not whistling through the graveyard, a denial, but a human decision to see the whole picture rather than focus on one side of a binary situation which seems to be a human tendency. This poiarity is real, and a creative tension and balance is hard to maintain, but it is my spiritual strategy.
My teacher, Don Saliers introduced me to Jonathan ‘Edwards, an 18th century philosopher and Congregational preacher who thought deeply and spoke clearly about religious affections. The genius of Edwards was to point out that we hew deep channels within our souls by practicing and focusing our emotions through regular times of attention and focus. Thanksgiving is one of those channels I am attempting to carve deeply in my self so that whatever may come my way, it can be channeled through the corridors of my heart called gratitude.
It begins with a profound appreciation for the very gift of life itself. As I breathe deeply, in and out, inhaling and exhaling, I sense the flow of air into my lungs through my nostrils and then out. The sense of breathing reminds me of the gift of life, the sheer gift of being in this world.
While Saliers and Edwards have provided spiritual guidance, science actually confirms the healthy benefits of any form of mindfulness or meditation that you practice regularly. Using functional MRI, scientists have been able to monitor the changes that take place during mediation and mark the changes that occur through time. I confirm the science in my own experience of mindfulness in my life and make a point to PAUSE throughout my day, focusing on two separate intense sessions in the morning and at evening, a habit I learned through Transcendental Meditation in college, and a rhythm that is found in most religious traditions. In my Anglican tradition, it works for me as Morning and Evening Prayer.
For some time now, I begin my morning with a pause for thanksgiving. This Lenten season, as I mentioned, I am devoting a bit more time remembering, something old folks are said to do. The fifty-cent word for this is called reminiscence. In my Southside Atlanta vernacular, it is a fitty cent word!
So here goes.
I am grateful that two human being from disparate backgrounds were attracted to one another, fell in love, and conceived me in the heat of passion. It’s taken me some years and dollars in therapy, but I am good with that, this being in the world for which I was not responsible in the least.
I am grateful for friends, some of over fifty years, that have shared the journey. I can name a handful that have really been there for me, in thick and then, loving me through my growth, my craziness, and my adventures.
I am grateful for scars….retrospectively. One on my left wrist, where I fell as a young child running with a screwdriver, winding up at Georgia Baptist Emergency room. A scar over my left eye from a football collision at Emory as a receiver came across the middle in my linebacker territory. I bled profusely for a half, then stitched up at Emory emergency room by a resident. And a scar in the middle of my chest, where they opened me up for quad bypass surgery at Emory Midtown, done by my former classmate from Jordan, who saved my life…a Muslim doing open-heart/beating heart on an Episcopalian.
I am grateful for teachers who met me in my moment of inquisitiveness. It’s seems that my incessant curiosity was timed well with the arrival of the right teacher, just like the Buddhist proverb says. Jones, Marney, Boozer, Hinson, Fowler, Gerkin, Lancaster, Conley, Roberts, Thurman, Child, Temple, Malone, to name a few. I have been so blessed to find these teachers along the path but grateful for my inner wisdom of seeking them out.
I am grateful for communities of faith I have been gifted to experience. Oakland City Baptist was a church that embraced my mother, a divorced woman at a time when that was not accepted. The Friendship Class there who gave me a host of loving father figures where i got my initial imprint of communion. Lakewood Heights Baptist where I first sensed my emotional pull toward the Holy, and saw my dad cry as he sung Old Rugged Cross. Dogwood Hills Baptist where I first sensed the tension of the cost of following the Gospel in the face of a culture. Decatur First Baptist where I learned the liberty of thinking and being, along with a taste of what community could be. Northside Drive Baptist where I got clear about the difference between form and substance. St. Luke’s Episcopal where I found a church that intended to change a city for God’s Kingdom. The Cathedral of St. Philip where I found out about sacramental leadership and. Christ Church, Tyler where I explored transforming a church society into a body of disciples. Holy Innocents where I learned about the passion for forming children, the holy but not so innocent. I also learned a hard lesson of treachery and ensconced culture. All of these experiences stretched me and formed me.
I am grateful for the day I was talked into going to Decatur First Baptist to hear Furman Professor, L.D. Johnson preach. I spotted a girt across the balcony from my fellow ratty Baptist refugees, chased her down after the service to ask her out that evening for a drink at the Lullwater, married her eight months later. I said I was grateful.
I am grateful for my brother, Mitch, who left a New Year’s Day party to fly with me down to New Orleans to find the aforementioned girl in the French Quarter. I had no idea where she was, who she was with. We made one pass down Bourbon St. following the Georgia-Notre Dame game, with the streets teeming with fans. When I asked my Georgia Tech trained brother as to the precise mathematical chances of us finding her in the masses, he answered, “Slim to none.” So we went. Just the way the Galloway boys roll.
I am grateful for the community of learners I have collected. All of my staff members have added to my sense of leadership. But in particular, I have been blessed by a community of thinkers around organizational design that have raised my game consistently. Starting with Daryl Conner who taught me about the dynamics of change, Charlie Palmgren who brought depth to this in the form of creative interchange, Mike Murray who stretched and filled out my notion of leadership, Ernie Cortes who schooled me in the power of community organizing, Harrison Owen who opened the scope of Spirit in Open Space Technology, and Bob Miles in the process of Transformation, I have been a fortunate person to be smart enough to link up with brilliance.
I am also grateful to those who have been co-learners in the praxis of leadership, some in the public square and some in church. Lee Stephens, Earl and Don Paulk, Fred Smith, Ron Gleason, Nancy Lamar, Kevin Martin, Claude Payne, Gray Temple, are a few of my colleagues in arms.
I find myself often thinking of my gratitude for my friends at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. From early in my life, this Trappist community has been a spiritual magnet for me, providing me a deep connection to the numinous. My spiritual director, Tom, continues to challenge me to reach beyond the norm. My friend and brother, Francis Michael, has been a presence for longer than almost anyone. Joachim, Tony, Paul. Ken, Clarence Pat, and Mark have been present in various moments and ways. The abbot, Augustine, or Gus, gave me wise counsel when I was playing with the notion of becoming a monk. His childlike laughter when I told him that, after six weeks, I would not be able to fade the demands of celibacy, still ring in the liberating way he intended it. The monks laughed, snickered, guffawed, and chortled when the woman I met after leaving the monastery was named Mary. What else could it have been? Emmylou?
I am grateful for the real gift of my life, my children. Thomas almost arrived at a dinner party with my closest friends. After a quick trip to Piedmont, he then took his time arriving, scaring me to death as my good friend, Steve Moreland monitored his birth. Mary Glen was in a bit of a rush, tearing me away from a Sunday afternoon party after church at my favorite family, the Cowarts, in Ansely Park. Again, Steve assisted Mary in her birthing process, and I was exhuberant in the birthing suite as I proclaimed, There’s NO penis! I had the baby girl I wanted.
This is just a start, a beginning of thanks that I am continuing to add to my journal during Lent. As I personally face the specter of this pandemic, I want to balance my meet and right concern with a proper heaping helping of gratitude.
I invite you to join me for the next month or so, journaling, writing down things and people that you are thankful for. In times like this, it’s good to re-mind ourselves of the many gifts that come our way. Use this season to dig some deep channels of gratitude as you make your way through this time.
Blessings on your memories.