The Power of Gratitude: Dr. Ivy George’s Vision for a United Society 

E Pluribus Unum—“out of many, one.” The official motto of the United States, these words were a call for the American colonies to unite against the British Empire. But now, in our melting pot of a country, our nation is more divided than ever. How do we as a society approach issues that affect not just one individual, but everyone? Is it possible for us to take on a new motto, ex uno plures—“out of one, many”? 

On January 23 Gordon’s Center for Faith and Inquiry (CFI) hosted its first event of the semester on its year long theme of “The one and the many.” Ivy George, professor of sociology, explained in her talk, “Oneing and Hospitality” the beginnings of a new project that examines the Christian’s role of hospitality in restoring our country to peace and unity through the concept of “oneing.” To restore our relationships with each other, we first need to restore our relationship with God and our posture towards gratitude and wonder.  

What is “Oneing”? 

“Oneing,” a term coined by Julian of Norwich in Revelations of Divine Love, is the idea that God dwells in creation, and all creatures dwell with each other and God. This is possible through God’s divine love—his greatest gift to us that binds humans, creation and God inseparably and continuously. In this unity there is also perfect space for diversity—out of the one God are many. We are held together by the commonality of our differences, George claims.  

However, in our broken world, this unity has been corrupted. Especially in Western cultures there’s a heavy focus on the individual. We place ourselves at the center of our world, insisting others ought to be just like us; or if they are essentially unlike us, they cannot be in our circles. George’s survey of people in her sociological field notes that we tend to ask, “Why should I care?” when we should be asking, “Who am I that God should care? Who are they that God should care?” When we recognize that God did not have to love us or create us, and yet he did so out of love, we become grateful. When we are grateful we treat others different from us as God calls us to do—with hospitality. 

“When we experience goodness at the hands of others, we are prone to be grateful, to be hospitable, and are empowered for the work of shalom. Gratitude generates goodness, and goodness is progressive and transforming—not just for individuals but society,” says George.  

A New Example of Hospitality 

In addition to recognizing the image of God in others, George contests we must also recognize the glory of God in creation. In the West the rise of rationalism has muted our sense of wonder and awe. We can explain everything scientifically and through researched proof—volcanoes erupt because of magma moving under the surface, not because of some angry deity. We’ve come to trust in ourselves and attempt to be self-sufficient, seeing ourselves as heroes of our own stories. We’ve forgotten that we’re all guests on this earth, completely dependent on the love of God and the mercy of others.  

But remembering the concept of “oneing” moves us to express hospitality. Hospitality is not just about offering a cup of tea to your house guest. “Hospitality arises from the recognition of one’s fundamental dependence on God and an expression of our gratitude to the Giver,” George says. When we realize how much God cares for us, it moves us to find God in nature—in flowers, on the beach, in the skies, in animals and in simple acts of human kindness. We grow in wonder and amazement of God’s power and love, and it moves us to gift hospitality to others. On the other hand, where there is little beauty and wonder, the opportunities for gratitude and hospitality are scant. 

“The giver resides in the gift, like artists in their art. And so we turn to all creation with respect and thanksgiving. Hospitality is about giving thanks and joining God as a co-creator, a repairer and a healer.” 

Ivy George

Instilling Gratitude 

George challenges us to think beyond the ritualistic “thanks” Christians say at our meals and prayers at church––what would it look like to raise a society on gratitude? In the West the exchange of money or work for services inhibits our expression of gratitude. For example, our entitlement in restaurants is resulting in a tipping fatigue epidemic. The entire “hospitality” business is based on getting better service for more money. Even our academic system is merit-based—competing with others for good grades and personal advancement. 

The thought of doing anything out of sheer gratitude, expecting nothing in return, is laughable in our day and age. The idea that we could be dependent guests in God’s creation is contrary to our high-achieving, independent culture. But this is an affront to the character of God and the concept of “oneing,” and it perpetuates the brokenness of the world we live in. We need a fundamental change in our normative understanding of hospitality, George says. It means institutional and social change in families, schools and systems.  

George gave an example of hospitality where a professor from her graduate program told his students at the beginning of a course that there would be no exams. Every student would create their own curriculum, and despite their workload, they would all get the same grade. Surprisingly, George and her peers did some of their best work because they loved what they learned and took pride in owning their work. We must take advantage of any spontaneous opportunity to show kindness and gratitude in our daily lives, while also looking for ways to improve our larger societal systems. 

“If we can imagine and institute small and large institutions and structures that build community bonds and practices, we would be amazed at the transformation we can achieve,” George says. “The pursuit of the Gospel, “oneing” and gratitude points to a new age in which we are self-conscious in our personal lives, our choices, our habits and practices as consumers and producers. This will shape our personal consciousness away from ourselves and towards the One and the many.”