An Orientation Toward Gratitude
Based on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Luke 17: 11-19
It sort of feels like Thanksgiving happened last week, as we spent the whole service expressing gratitude through music. But then comes the question, is thanksgiving relegated to a once yearly celebration, or is it an orientation to life? I think you know where I’m going with this already.
First to Jeremiah. The year 587 B.C.E. (although they didn’t call it that at the time) was a painful memory to those who survived the siege of Jerusalem and now find themselves living in exile in Babylon. But at least they are living – they are the lucky ones, the ones who survived the slaughter in Jerusalem. They survived because of their abilities, their usefulness to the conquering nation. Someone brings to them a letter; it’s from that crazy prophet Jeremiah, the one who for years told them this would all come about.
The letter from Jeremiah doesn’t say, “See, I told you so.” He says, `This is where you are now – bloom where you’re planted. Set down roots, plant crops, intermarry and grow strong. Seek the welfare of the place you are in.’
No matter what has happened in life to put us where we are, be it for a short while or a long time, we can work with where we are and what we have. Rev. Nancy Steves speaking at Naramata a few years ago said, “We can mourn what’s lost, or we can mine what’s left.” We need to acknowledge and mourn losses, we can’t move forward until we do. But if we orient our life to mourning, we won’t grow from our losses, we won’t search for the treasure in the rubble, and we won’t see the wonder and beauty all around us. No amount of saying, `This is the way things should have gone,’ will actually make things go that way. So then what? For me, when I hear the word orientation toward gratitude or regret I keep seeing a compass – and I haven’t used a compass really in my life. But I know the principle of it – the needle is going to point north – always. You have to keep turning yourself in the direction of north if you want to go there, you can’t make the compass itself change.
I think it’s that way with gratitude as well. Some people seem to have a natural orientation to gratitude. For others, it’s a conscious choice, a conscious reorientation over and over again.
Where is at in the gospel? Most of us have heard the story of Jesus healing the lepers so often that I wonder – does it still fire our imagination the way it did to Jesus’ first listeners so many years ago? Did this one leper have an orientation to gratitude? “Go, show yourselves to the priest” Jesus told them all. Did the Samaritan see a gift where others heard a command? We can speculate on that till the cows come home.
Jesus’ hearers would know two things about this man. He was a leper – therefore unclean, a social outcast. And he was a Samaritan, therefore, unworthy of a second thought.
The Samaritan reminds us that true gratitude is a reorientation that shapes our lives and transforms who we are as individuals and as a community.
For the other nine people, who also received healing, we don’t know if there was any similar reorientation in their lives. Do they continued to live by the constraints of temple authority, and possibly subject others to the same social isolation they have known? Do they justify their healing as a manifestation of their own inner greatness?
I have often wondered at what happens when an individual or a group of people suffer a severe loss. Some turn to empathy and compassion for all, and others inflict the very suffering they have experienced onto other individuals or groups. It’s not retaliation, as often the new victim is completely unrelated to the one or the group that first caused harm.
It’s not an easy fix by any means, but I do believe that gratitude can have a tremendous healing effect. In their beautiful book, “Sleeping With Bread: holding what gives you life,” Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn talk of the power of the Examen prayer – ending the day by asking two questions: For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful? They suggest that God’s will is generally for us to do more of whatever we are most grateful for or whatever gives us most life.
I want to share a few lovely quotes that I found this week, and then ask two questions.
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” ― Maya Angelou, Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
And the two questions:
What hinders you from orienting your life toward gratitude?
What helps you orient your life toward gratitude?