We are on a 3 week-journey looking at 3 essential prayers and  spiritual practices to awaken ourselves to a meaningful life with God. Today we look at The Spiritual Practice of  Thanks: the practice of gratitude and appreciation.  The Practice of Awakening to the Goodness of God.

During this last year of the pandemic, in a season of so much suffering, of political turmoil and conflict, with racial disparity and injustice, with so much isolation, it sometimes feels easier to turn to cynicism, grumbling, complaining, blaming. Gratitude may be far down the list before we get to it. And yet, gratitude is the path to healing and wholeness, opening our hearts and lives to God’s service.

Anne Lamott writes in her book Thanks, Help, WOW!

There are times when you want to give up a thousand times over. Grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.

Paul tells us in I Thess 5:18: “I have learned to be content with what I have AND to give thanks in all circumstances”.

This should not be confused with “for all circumstances”. People survive unsurvivable losses and have endured insurmountable challenges. “Thank you God for this” are usually not the first words out of our mouths. Yet even in the midst of pain, we are invited to practice gratitude. Sometimes it is precisely in moments of difficulty and pain and vulnerability that people become aware that they are surrounded by love and will say, “I never knew so many people cared about me.”

Anne Lamott: I have had the experience where people I once viewed as my nemesis became an instrument of tenderness, buoyancy, exploration, and hope. Once you learn to breathe in gratitude and breathe it out as well you begin to learn how to bear someone who is unbearable. When we go from grouchy & clenched to grateful, we sometimes become aware of grace, knowing that we were stuck. The movement of grace in our lives toward freedom is the mystery. And So we say thanks.

We’ve learned over and over again that it’s not how much you have that brings happiness; it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have; otherwise we can easily and unconsciously begin to take people and things for granted. The more we take for granted leads to ingratitude, a sense of entitlement, cynicism, self-reliance and unhappiness. Our spiritual awakening begins when we realize what is enough, and give thanks for enough. In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, the prayer we pray every Sunday, he offered simple words to acknowledge our dependence: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  These words evoked the journey of ancestors in the wilderness when they had to travel light and collect manna, their bread for that day, and that day only. Nothing could be stored so each day was lived in dependence for God’s provision. Nothing could be taken for granted. We are insulated from this daily dependence, so it is good to acknowledging our dependence on God’s provision. Appreciation of gratefully holding rather than simply having without gratitude.

Evelyn Underhill: God is always coming to you in the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive God with gratitude in that sacrament – in every sight, sound, joy, pain, opportunity & sacrifice. 

50 years ago, singer Joni Mitchell sang a song,

Big Yellow Taxi – Don’t it always seem to go, You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone-unless you practice gratitude. 

When you want to practice gratitude you can start with fingers and toes. New parents count their babies fingers and toes giving thanks when they get to 10. What do your fingers & toes do for you? Each part of your body that functions that isn’t wracked with pain is something to be grateful for. 

Day after day we are given water, air, breath, daylight if not sunlight here in the PNW, food, family, friends, music, entertainment, God’s creation and a million other blessings, again and again. How do we not fall to the temptation of taking it for granted? If you notice you are grumbling more than expressing gratitude, there are 3 words to incorporate in your Spiritual practice – again, this, enough: 

Again, God, again you have blessed me.
Again I savor this gift.  Again I appreciate.  Again I say thanks.
Thank you for: this day, this view, this meal,
this breath, this moment, this song.
Thank you for this and this and this, again and again.

There is a Hebrew Prayer, Shecheheyanu: 

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life,
sustained us, and enabled us to reach
this occasion.
Holy One of Blessing, Your presence fills creation.
You have kept us alive,  
You have sustained us, You have brought us to this moment. 

There is a Jewish word that is ritually used once a year at Passover – Dayenu is an expression of thanksgiving, gratitude, and appreciation. At Passover, Jewish people recount their oppression and slavery in Egypt, the 10 plagues, and the subsequent delivery from oppression.  

They sing a song – Dayenu.  It would have been enough…
If God had brought us out of Egypt, dayenu – it would have been enough
If God had split the sea for us, dayenu  – it would have been enough…
If God had led us through on dry land, dayenu – it would have been enough…
If God had provided for our us in the wilderness for 40 years, dayenu, it would have been enough

    Singing this song dayenu fills one with a sense of being abundantly blessed, one’s cup running over.

Isaiah expresses this sentiment in a different way in ch. 40: Have you not heard, have you not seen. The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. The Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run & not be weary, They shall walk & not faint.

And in Mark 1, we read that when Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, the first thing she did was get up to serve. We could look at that with cynicism and say Jesus was hungry so he healed her so that she would fix him dinner. Or we could say her strength was renewed, and out of gratitude and a sense of purpose, she dedicated her life to one of service. 

Anne Lamott: Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. When you become aware of all that has been given to you, it is hard not to be humbled and pleased to give back. The poets and psalmists and songwriters say the invisible shift happens through the broken places. When we’re on the emotional train wreck instead of wining the Nobel Prize, which I would very much prefer hearing these words: “This year’s Nobel Prize in humility goes to..” 

Saying and meaning “Thanks” leads to asking: What more can I give?  It behooves us to practice being receptive, open for the business of gratitude, to allow for a crack where a ribbon of light gets in, might sneak past all of the roadblocks. This movement of grace toward gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening. Gratitude is peace. 

Through ordinary things – life can be transformed. To acknowledge that we’ve been set free from from crippling obsession or guilt, to be graced with the ability to finally forgive someone is astonishing. You can’t get from where you were – gripped by anxiety, fear – to come through to freedom. To have been lost, to feeling found, returned and set back onto your feet – Thank you God!

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging;
since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing;
It sounds and echoes in my soul; how can I keep from singing?