Spirit Alive: Activating Your PGSD


August 21, 2018

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Keeping Your Sense of Gratitude and Blessing Alive

May 24, 1738: "Wesley reluctantly attended a group meeting that evening on Aldersgate Street in London.  As he heard a reading from Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he felt his 'heart strangely warmed.'   Wesley wrote in his journal that at about 8:45 p.m. 'while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. '"


In recent years, we have become much more aware of the effects of PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on individuals. Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have come home to experience surprising emotional difficulties as they try to re-integrate back into American life, only to have various triggering events plunge them into prior battlefield anxieties and memories. Victims of sexual violence, who have recently been more open in sharing their stories of abuse publicly, have in the process of their sharing, triggered fresh remembrances of harm and pain in those around them who have heard and been touched by their stories.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very real phenomenon that impacts the lives of thousands of people, as they uncomfortably return to prior times of trauma and stress.

But while I was in Kenya this summer, I had an epiphany there regarding a different, but equally real, emotional phenomenon. You see, while I was participating in our Volunteers in Mission experience there, I found myself deeply moved by a number of encounters with the people we met, which triggered the very opposite of trauma. A number of the encounters in Kenya returned me to prior experiences of joy and blessing that were a part of my earlier life.

When I witnessed the warm welcome and generous hospitality of the Kenyans as we dedicated the AIDs orphan's house we built there, I remembered experiencing the same kind of feelings when I worked at a community center in Brazil or participated in an immersion experience with leaders of the Korean church in Seoul years earlier.

When Stanley Gitari enthusiastically shared his love for others as he expressed his vision for several public health-related projects associated with the Maua Methodist Hospital, I couldn't help but think about Teca, Adela, and others I've met over the years who likewise shared their own enthusiasm and love for others in deeply moving ways.

When we concluded our visit by going on safari in the Masai Mara National Reserve, my mind drifted to other places of great natural wonder that I've experienced over the years, which also left me in a state of wonder and awe.

Through these interactions, what I realized is that I was experiencing a kind of PGSD or Post-Gratitude Stimulus Dynamics. By the way, don't try looking up PGSD in Wikipedia, because I just made up this concept, so you won't find it there.

But during my time in Kenya, I came to the conclusion that just as prior trauma can be re-activated in one's life by triggering events, so too can a sense of gratitude and joy. In fact, there are times in life when the deepest parts of our lives are blessed by powerful experiences that move our hearts and spirits, connect of us others, touch our sense of wonder and awe...and leave a lasting impact on us that is just waiting to be remembered. Sometimes these experiences are simply new insights into life, sometimes they are encounters with the mystery of the natural world...but when they take place, they can be life-changing in nature. Simply put: they are encounters that touch our souls and inspire our spirits.

It is why when individuals are asked: "Tell me about a time when you experienced God?" ...people will often respond by telling you about a powerful, life-shaping event that happened years ago. It could be a camp experience, a profound personal encounter with a mentor or spiritual guide...or even an early childhood conversion. The stories have a primal quality to them...and more often than not they are deeply etched in one's life.

But I often wonder to myself when I hear people describe these early life experiences what has happened in their lives since then....How has the soul been activated and touched more recently?

For me, this is why the concept of PGSD is so important. In order to be fully alive, our spirits need to be touched and moved again and again by personal encounters, natural wonders, and inspirational moments that activate our souls and stimulate our spiritual energy. In fact, when this happens frequently we find ourselves grounded firmly in a sense of wholeness and holiness. But when these experiences are only distant memories from earlier times...then we tend the lose the fire within and our spiritual lives lose their vibrancy.

So it raises an important question for you to consider: How are you actively placing yourself in settings and situations that allow your soul to be touched and your spiritual life to be enriched? This can happen by immersing yourself in places where inspiration, wonder, and awe can take hold. This can happen in church. This can happen by going on a retreat. It can happen in nature. It can happen in your very next encounter with someone, if you are truly open to the spirit alive and at work.

However, there is no guarantee that any of us can create situations in which our spirits will be enriched and nourished. After all, the spirit blows where it will. But we are agents in our own spiritual development, and the disciplines we develop, the actions we take, the habits we practice, the paths we follow in life matter.

The Early Church saw Sundays as "little Easters"...times to remember the power of resurrection as a vital part of the Christian narrative. But it is also easy to just "go through the motions" in worship, and this can and has often happened in the life of the church.

In fact, John Wesley was concerned about such things himself. In 1786, he said: "I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out."

My experiences in Kenya reminded me that when my spiritual life is active and alive I suddenly become aware of prior times of gratitude and blessing...and when this happens my soul is stimulated and refreshed....and as Wesley said "my heart is strangely warmed" as well. I hope and pray that you will have a little PGSD happening in your life in the coming weeks as summer turns to fall.


Let us walk in the light of God's love,


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.





Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org