Gravitating toward Gratitude
Based on 2nd Corinthians 9:6-15 & Luke 17:11-19
Paul writes to the congregation in Corinth, encouraging them to be generous with a request for a `Mission & Service’ donation to the struggling church in Jerusalem. The Corinthians are reluctant. “Why don’t those Jerusalemites just get a job”, they mutter. Because, that’s not the Jesus way, Paul counters. It’s not about every man or woman for themselves. It’s about generosity and trust and the mysterious gift therein – You will have enough for you, and for the ones you are giving too. God’s grace is limitless – so loosen up a little my friends. He says this kindly, without shaming them, but by sharing what we might term a wonderful positive-feedback system. He lets them know their generosity will inspire the receivers of the gift, they will pray in thanksgiving for you, and God’s loving it all and blessing it all.
Will the Corinthian congregation take that leap of faith or will they say, `No, there is only enough for us?’ Will they live in the myth of scarcity, or will they gravitate toward gratitude and generosity? Where do we feel the tension about such decisions when requests are made of us?
From Luke’s gospel we hear the familiar story of Jesus encounter with a community of lepers – it seems to be presented quite regularly at Thanksgiving.
Rev. Nancy Steves at the Western Women’s Conference last year said that we hear the story of the one leper who returned to thank Jesus, and we love to beat up on the other nine for not coming back. And yet, she goes on to say, they were probably just doing what Jesus told them to do! So why didn’t this leper?
Could it be, Nancy wondered, that he had an orientation to gratitude? Maybe gratitude was the way he lived his life. Maybe he realized he’d already won the biggest lottery simply by being born. How often to we consider the miracle of our own birth? On the day we were conceived, we each `won’ the race. Out of 500 million the one little sperm that held half of our DNA teamed up with the other half cradled in the ovum of our mother’s womb, and Voila! Here we are! Is that not miracle enough for celebration? 🙂
Meanwhile the advertising world spends $400 billion (annually) to tell us that we are not good enough – we don’t look good enough, we don’t smell good enough, we don’t own enough, or we don’t own the right kind of enough. My friends, we are not good consumer potential if we are grateful; if we realize that we have enough and are good enough. And yet with all that pressure to be dissatisfied, how can we turn our attention and our orientation toward gratitude?
Something that I have found to be very helpful for myself is called the Examen prayer. I first heard of it from former United Church moderator Marti Tindal, when she addressed the United Church General Council in Wolfville Nova Scotia in 2003. She referred to a wonderful little book called, Sleeping with Bread: holding what gives you life.
The Examen is a form of prayer, where at the end of the day, you reflect on when you felt the least grateful, the least connected to self, others, God, the universe, when you felt the most drained of life during the day. You bring your awareness to this, acknowledging it before God. And you prayerfully go through the day and reflect on when you felt most grateful, most connected to self, God, others, universe, when you felt most alive. The simple and wonderful thing is God wants our path to follow those things which bring us gratitude and love and connectedness.
This letting ourselves be aware of when we had feelings of connection and disconnection, when we felt happiest or saddest, when we were most grateful and least grateful cuts through the `should’ of life – I should have felt grateful, I should have known that wouldn’t work, I should try harder. The thing is, if you are trying harder to do something that isn’t life-giving for you…it will deplete you.
The co-authors of Sleeping with Bread write: “Burnout comes not primarily from doing too much, but from doing what we don’t really want to do – so that one foot is moving forward and the other foot is trying to run away.” p13 S.W.B.
As most of you know, Jim and I looked after two little girls for three weeks this fall while our honourary daughter needed some help after surgery. At times it was exhausting, and frustrating, but in prayerful reflection I was more upset with myself for getting impatient and grouchy than I was with anything the girls did.
And my moments of gratitude came when reflecting on how Jim loved and accepted me even when I lost my `cool’, and over simple things like knowing we had the health and the time to help our dear Jenai, and that the girls know their family is even bigger now to include us, and that we got to teach them to pray – to express gratitude, to gravitate toward it.
Sometimes, in their prayers, they would give thanks for things we had forgotten or didn’t see as significant. E.g. Jayanna would pray: Thank you for the beautiful day we had yesterday, and thank you for the “vitaminth”, and (picking up something they heard from Grandpa Jim,) Thank you for the love around this table. Amen.
For these things and for so much more I am truly grateful.
What makes you grateful for being alive in this time?