Gratitude helps us (allows, encourages, enables us) to see the sufficiency in the present. To embrace the gift of enough.
No, this is not always easy. And pain is very real. But instead of looking at what is “missing” or waiting for what we hope is still to come, the fuel of gratitude enables us to take the next steps on our journey.
For anyone who has been affected by depression or melancholy, this paradigm shift is liberating.
Gratitude allows us to invest in what we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell in the moment. The sacrament of the present moment.
Gratitude allows us to partake in the joys of the everyday, to see the sacred in the very, very ordinary.
And gratitude helps us see that the sufficiency is not self-sufficiency, but that gratitude sees the connection, as we do indeed walk one another home (Thank you Ram Dass).
This past week, Michael Gerson died, from complications from cancer. He was 58 years old. (Michael was a leading speechwriter for President George W. Bush, Washington Post columnist and a frequent PBS NewsHour political analyst.) I admired his writing and his character.
And his willingness to be open about the permission to embrace (and be grateful for) the gift of enough even when it feels so far away.
In 2019, Gerson delivered a guest sermon at Washington’s National Cathedral.
“Over time, you begin to see hints and glimmers of a larger world outside the prison of your sadness. The conscious mind takes hold of some shred of beauty or love. And then more shreds, until you begin to think maybe, just maybe, there is something better on the far side of despair.
I have no doubt that I will eventually repeat the cycle of depression. But now I have some self-knowledge that can’t be taken away. I know that – when I’m in my right mind – I choose hope.
The phrase – ‘in my right mind’ – is harsh. No one would use it in a clinical setting. But it fits my experience exactly.
In my right mind – when I am rested and fed, medicated and caffeinated – I know that I was living within a dismal lie.
In my right mind, I know I have friends who will not forsake me.
In my right mind, I know that chemistry need not be destiny.
In my right mind, I know that weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Thank you, Michael, Rest in Peace.)
And this I know for certain: gratitude is the fuel that enables my right mind. Yes, I choose hope.
This week we’re embracing the gift of grace and the power of gratitude. It did my heart good to read this from author and historian Diana Butler Bass. She reminds us that gratitude begins with an awareness of God’s grace.
“The words ‘gratitude’ and ‘grace’ come from the same root word, gratia in Latin… ‘Grace’ is a theological word, one with profound spiritual meaning. Grace means ‘unmerited favor.’ When I think of grace, I particularly like the image of God tossing gifts around—a sort of indiscriminate giver of sustenance, joy, love, and pleasure. Grace—gifts given without being earned and with no expectation of return—is, as the old hymn says, amazing. Because you can neither earn nor pay back the gift, your heart fills with gratitude. And the power of that emotion transforms the way you see the world and experience life. Grace begets gratitude, which, in turn, widens our hearts toward greater goodness and love.”
Bass explores the liberating nature of gratitude:
“Together grace and gratitude form a different moral ‘equation.’ The standard model of gratitude is a closed cycle of gift and return bound by social obligation and indebtedness, whereby a ‘benefactor,’ a superior of some sort (someone wealthier, more powerful), provides a benefit for another, a ‘beneficiary,’ a person in a state of need or trouble. In the closed cycle, the beneficiary is dependent on the benefactor in a way that feels demeaning or signals indebtedness… Few want to be on the receiving end of an unequal transaction…
If we change a closed system to an open one, banishing transaction and substituting grace, the picture of gratitude shifts. In the closed cycle of debt and duty, the roles of benefactor and beneficiary are static, and gifts are commodities of exchange, based in transaction and control… But in an open cycle of gratitude, gifts are not commodities. Gifts are the nature of the universe itself, given by God or the natural order. Grace reminds us that every good thing is a gift—that somehow the rising of the sun and being alive are indiscriminate daily offerings to us—and then we understand that all benefactors are also beneficiaries and all beneficiaries can be benefactors. All that we have was gifted to all of us. There would be no benefactors if they were not first the recipients of grace. In other words, gifts come before givers. We do not really give gifts. We recognize gifts, we receive them, and we pass them on. We all rely on these gifts. We all share them.
This is not a fulfillment of duty or a single act of kindness, but an infinite process of awareness and responsive action. The gift structure of the universe is that of an interdependent community of nature and neighbor that extends through the ages in which we care for what was handed to us and give gifts to others as a response. This is not a closed circle of exchange; it is more like the circles that ripple across a pond when pebbles are tossed into the water.”
(From Diana Butler Bass, Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Giving Thanks) (And grateful to the Center for Action and Contemplation, who posted this gift.)
Let’s take this from Henri Nouwen to our Thanksgiving gatherings… “Every time we decide to be grateful, we see new things to be grateful for. Gratitude begats gratitude just as love begats love.”
Savor your Thanksgiving my friends.
Let us pray this beautiful prayer from Howard Thurman (theologian, mystic, philosopher, and civil rights leader, 1899 – 1981).
In Your presence, O God, we make our Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
We begin with the simple things of our days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
We bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that we have known:
Our mothers’ arms,
The strength of our fathers,
The playmates of our childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to us from the lives of many who
talked of days gone by when fairies and giants and diverse kinds
of magic held sway;
The tears we have shed, the tears we have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye with
its reminder that life is good.
For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
The tightening of the grip in a simple handshake when I
Feared the step before me in darkness;
The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest
And the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open
Page when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I pass before me the main springs of my heritage:
The fruits of labors of countless generations who lived before me,
Without whom my own life would have no meaning;
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp
And whose words would only find fulfillment
In the years which they would never see;
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees,
The leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons,
Whose courage made paths into new worlds and far off places;
The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream
Could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment
To which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
The little purposes in which I have shared my loves,
My desires, my gifts;
The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence
That I have never done my best, I have never dared
To reach for the highest;
The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind
Will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the
inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the
children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.
A calming, heart-warming sunny day here in the PNW. And it all began with the comfort of an early lingering morning fog. The photo is from my morning walk here in Port Ludlow.
Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends (some old, some new), with seconds, of course, especially the pie.
Savor your moments of gratitude my friends… and let us take this gift from Tish Harrison Warren into our weekend, “Gratitude — like ingratitude — can be cultivated. Thankfulness is a daily practice that becomes a habit that becomes a disposition. To begin to develop this disposition, we have to intentionally notice our interdependence, and how much we receive from others. Everyone alive is here because someone sacrificed for us, birthed us, fed us, and cared for us. None of us are self-made. In order to exercise the muscle of gratitude, we must live each day acknowledging how much we owe to others.
In my book, ‘Prayer in the Night,’ I wrote, ‘To choose joy is to see all existence as a gift, which is why the practice of joy is inseparable from the practice of gratitude. Gratitude gives birth to joy because gratitude teaches us to receive life as a gift in the moment we’re in.’ It teaches us that our very existence is a gift.”
Prayer for our week…
Come, sit at our table.
Be present in the bread we break and share.
It is our daily bread lifted out of both grace and struggle.
It is the bread of compassion and joy, sorrow and courage.
We bless you who have journeyed with us through the hours of this day.
Now it is evening, and the day is almost spent.
Come to our supper table.
Be our guest.
Let us see your face in each of our table companions.
At this hour light the lamps of our hearts and attend our deepest hungers.
May it be so!
Macrina Wiederkehr (Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day)
Photo… “Good morning Terry, There I was in a dark dank parking structure–waiting for a friend while she was in an appointment–when something bright & beautiful caught my eye–just outside of the the structure. Look! God in yellow wings!” Debbie Minton (California’s Central Coast)