On Sunday, I shared about two recollections from my childhood. When I was quite young, I remember someone saying to me: “Why can’t you just be grateful for what you have?” I felt extremely guilty for wanting more than I had. A few years later, I wore a bracelet with the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” This not only increased my guilt, but I began believing that God did not want me to have desires, that desires were a bad thing, and that any desires pointed to the fact that I was ungrateful.
I now believe that I can be profoundly grateful for God’s grace, the gift of life and all of the blessings I have, and at the same time want something more. This past week, I was walking along the Poipu Beach just before sunset and came across some turtles…and then some monk seals…and then saw my first whales of the season. I was overcome with gratitude to be walking in such a beautiful place and seeing such amazing creatures. However, my immediate reaction after feeling gratitude for seeing the whales was a desire to see them again, and so I stood there and looked until I did see them again—several times, in fact—and then I saw a whole other pod even further away by the horizon. I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe—and felt even more gratitude! There was absolutely nothing wrong with my desire to see more whales. I can hold both gratitude and desire at the same time. There is a kind of gratitude that allows for wanting more, such as: more wonder, more love, more joy, more peace, more justice.
In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18, he points out the problem with the kind of gratitude that the Pharisee had. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The way in which he held gratitude was demeaning, divisive and based upon the fact that the Pharisee thought he was morally superior and ontologically more valuable than others. It is a toxic kind of gratitude. On the other hand, the tax collector simply prayed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” He asked for God’s mercy. He knew God was a merciful God. His kind of prayer leads to what I call an expansive gratitude, whereby all people receive God’s love simply because God loves them and not because of any kind of superiority or greater inherent value over others.
“A Message from Kahu Alan Akana” is provided most weeks by Koloa Union Church, an Open & Affirming (ONA) congregation of the United Church of Christ (UCC), a member of the Kauai Association and Hawaii Conference.
To see a video of Kahu Akana’s message, click HERE. You may see the Koloa Union Church YouTube channel to see many of his past messages and subscribe in order be notified when a new message is posted. Please share these videos with friends and invite them to church. Please feel free to “Like” any of the videos you see and share them on social media, such as Facebook, so that others will notice them.
You are welcome to join us on Sunday mornings! To see our Sunday morning schedule, click HERE.
Kahu Akana is also an accomplished artist! He specializes in creating vibrant watercolors of the flowers of Hawaii and hosts a Sunday afternoon reception in a gallery at his home, the Smith Memorial Parsonage. He also meets visitors by appointment. Most of the profit from the sales go for the maintenance and upkeep of the parsonage. To see a video about his art and gallery, click HERE. To see the gallery website, click HERE.
To learn more about Kahu Akana (and the rest of the staff at Koloa Union Church), click HERE.