A Reflection on: Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us by Christine D. Pohl
I suggest engaging Pohl’s four practices (gratitude, promises, truth-living, and hospitality) is a prerequisite for systemic transformation. In conversation with studies in personal and inner transformation, I consider my leadership task in midlife to be transformation of myself, thus modelling transformation for others. I wonder now about whether I need to expand that.
It seems to me after reading Pohl’s work that in the complexity of family dynamics there can’t be a linear progression of transformation, but rather systemic transformation framed in terms of a cycle/spiral. Awareness of the need for transformation on an individual level can lead to awareness of a need for systemic change; however, if the system is a self-perpetuating cycle (or downward spiral, perhaps), then the entire geometric matrix needs to be raised simultaneously, as in a descending spring being inverted upwards.
I now recognize need for personal transformation through re-engaging gratitude. I hadn’t ever really pondered the crossroad of gratitude and spirit beyond noting the several passages in scripture about “thanking God at all times” (Eph. 5:20, 1 Th. 5:18, others), but Pohl draws from a hugely impressive bibliography on many authors’ dealing with gratitude and thankfulness which I think I will have to plumb later.
At the systemic level, Pohl examined what happens if we don’t live into gratitude:
“While gratitude gives life to communities, ingratitude that has become established sucks out everything good, until life itself shrivels and discouragement and discontent take over.” (20)
This seems to sum up key touch points in struggling marital experiences. I wonder if it could be the same for younger generations in regards to the church…gratitude or ingratitude seems key to healthy self-esteem about continued involvement.
What if, instead of dwelling on what “sucks” dry, gratitude is replenished by growing awareness of what we can be thankful for: naming and saying it out loud in the presence of family or from the pulpit. Then ask, “What do you feel thankful for?” For the church, this might also be celebrating young people and offering thankfulness stories across the generations.
Some quotes to ponder from Pohl:
“Ingratitude toward God and human beings is a terrible thing, but it often comes dressed in other clothing — restlessness, concerns about self-fulfillment or entitlement, and irritation at not being properly valued or recognized.” (20)
“To love and persevere in situations where the people we serve are unresponsive or ungrateful requires that we understand our work as offered first to God.” (39)
“Like parents who are never satisfied with their children’s achievements … Spiritual [I would use the term deformation – the author’s use of ‘pornography’ here seems misplaced to me] takes many forms, but its saddest results are the incapacity to appreciate small gifts and the tendency to trample fragile expressions of beauty and goodness.” (24)
“Gratefulness to God and gratitude for life can strengthen persons for the long journey toward wholeness and justice.” (43)
All this causes my heart to cry out and pray for the journey of my children, who are still being formed; my wife and I, who are somewhat set in our ways; the church, which is facing unprecedented life change and societal challenges; and that all of us might eventually become whole.
“Gratitude and thanksgiving make all of the other practices more beautiful. When gratitude shapes our lives, fidelity is more likely to be joy-filled, truth is life-giving, and hospitality is offered with generosity and joy.” (65)