Treasure Valley Prays

Communal Gratitude

Nov. 12, I attended a Boise Philharmonic concert at the Morrison Center for the first time in a long time. A friend of mine who teaches piano lessons and accompanies at a local church really wanted to attend the concert because of the guest pianist: Fei Fei. We ended up going early to hear the Pre-Concert Talk, which included a brief interview with her.

I was very excited already for the final piece of the evening, Rhapsody in Blue. The Broadway musical Crazy for You, using the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, premiered in 1992 and I listened to my tape recording over and over my junior and senior years in high school. I love Gershwin music and was fully prepared to be wowed during Rhapsody. What I was not prepared for was how much I would be moved by Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement, with its more Southern and rural themes. Find a recording online and enjoy.

The final surprise of the evening was my complete and deep joy in sharing the experience with an entire audience. Our united applause for both Fei-Fei and the orchestra was this instinctive and united act of communal gratitude for the gifts of music we had all just received. I had not realized how much I had missed that feeling. I have been on my feet with crowds in the last year applauding Broadway in Boise performances but somehow this concert felt different. Maybe there was a little home-town pride in that our orchestra was playing alongside this world-class pianist. Or maybe I was simply more aware because a group at Trinity Lutheran has been reading Diana Butler Bass’s book Grateful: The Subversive Act of Giving Thanks.

It took our group a few chapters to really warm up to this book, but in recent weeks it has provided the seeds for great conversations about embodied community, faith practices, mentoring, and of course gratitude itself. Favorite moments for me have been inviting people who seem to manifest a life of gratitude to share the way they begin and end their day and watching as the whole group leans in to glean some wisdom.

It is the notion of communal gratitude that really struck me and that I have been paying attention to. Bass writes,

“Communal emotions are powerful. This can be frightening—and perhaps that is why we shy away from shared emotional experiences—because some feelings can cause riots, mob violence, or nationalist fervors. But there is a Sanskrit word that helps describe the positive sense of gratitude as a communal emotion: kama muta, ‘moved by love.’ When we are touched deeply by others, when we feel deeply with others, we experience the oneness of ‘love, belonging, or union—with an individual person, a family, a team, a nation, nature, the cosmos, God.’ Profound experiences of gifts and thanks often bring forth tears, causing people to feel deeply together, even those who only witness acts of gratitude.”

This all made me recall the opening exercise at a Worship and Music Planning meeting a few weeks ago. With a few new people in the room, I invited everyone to share their favorite hymn, at least on that day, as a get to know one another exercise. A mom of an eight-year-old said her favorite hymn was the opening hymn from the previous Sunday, because her daughter was singing it so well. We all scrambled for a bulletin to figure out which hymn it was. After some discussion we realized she was referencing the hymn of praise from Marty Haugen’s Now the Feast Holy Communion Setting: “Now the feast and celebration, all of creation sings for joy, to the God of life and love and freedom, praise and glory forever more.”

Funny how so many of our hymns of praise can become earworms, tunes that get stuck in your head. Not as funny, my eyes welled up with tears the first time we brought back the sung liturgy, including the hymn of praise, to Trinity, coming out of the pandemic. Unlike The Great Thanksgiving, which the presider reads alone on behalf of the congregation, the hymn of praise, as well as other hymns and songs of thanksgiving, is sung by the entire community. It is a weekly act of communal gratitude for all God has done and will do. It is an expression of gratitude for God’s very existence.

When have you experienced an episode of communal joy where thankfulness was the dominant emotion?

Pray with the Psalmist...

Psalm 95:1-7
1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

Meggan Manlove

Meggan Manlove

ELCA Pastor, Trinity Lutheran, Nampa ID

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