Gratitude | November 26, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake
“If the only prayer you said was 'thank you,' that would be enough.” – Meister Eckhart
Monday of this past week, there was a knock at my door. Upon opening it, a neighbor from across the street stood in front of me. He had come to remind me that it was street cleaning day. I needed to move my car to the other side of the street. Absorbed in thought, I had forgotten that it was the third Monday of the month, a street-sweeping day for the side of the street where my car was parked. His gesture moved me. This was not the first time neighbors had so informed me. My brother and I have also informed neighbors when their cars needed to be moved to avoid receiving a ticket that costs $60 or more. For some reason, I really experienced deep gratitude this time. Maybe it was because “the milk of human kindness” had poured forth a few days before. The state of gratitude continues with me today, ordering my thoughts about life in a fuller way than usual.
I have an extraordinary colleague who always closes her emails with the word “gratitude.” Yet, I am the one who feels grateful that she is in my life. I also wonder if this sense of gratitude was tutored the previous day’s Transgender Day of Remember Service or as some say, Transgender Day of Resilience. Moved by the powerful message of our speaker, the music and all who participated in lighting candles affected me so deeply. So deeply that while mourning their deaths and appalled by those who killed them, I was touched and challenged by the courage of transgender kin who lived authentically.
Maybe the scent of Thanksgiving Day was also in the air. And I anticipated an annual message from long-time friend and past poet laureate of the city of Berkeley, Rafael Jesus Gonzalez. He did not disappoint.
Deplorable in its origins, sentimental in its legend, Thanksgiving Day is nevertheless my favorite U.S. holiday. It is archetypal, mythic, universal, for gratitude and its expression are one of the noblest experiences of humankind. It is one of the taproots of spirituality, keystone of all religion. Of all holidays, it celebrates most strongly familial, community ties, and the sharing of food, primal act of bonding, of human connection.
It is a break from the turbulence of a world that often overwhelms and leaves us frustrated, anxious, compromised, depressed, and exhausted. It is good to have sanctuary with those whom you love and share so much. I am also aware that this is not true for everyone. Thanksgiving can be a mentally stressful time. Some cannot or will not spend time with their biological families for that would trigger too much trauma. Many term it “Thanks grieving Day.” Indeed, there is much that we must grieve, and grieve in order to move forward.
Many will grieve the loss of lives, homes, income, health, and healthcare. Hurricanes and floods have devastated large areas of living, leaving people with their backs against the wall. Fires have claimed the precious possessions of hundreds. All have been victims of an economic system that enshrines greed and hypocrisy. Hunger is still a major problem in the land. The lack of rent control stalks the days of many. Missed rent payments too callously lead to evictions. Infant mortality is still much too high as are incarceration rates, especially for those already on the margins of society. Mass murders, six hundred and ten thus far this year have become commonplace. We as a nation refuse to value human life over the sale of weapons of mass destruction. We continue to balance our national budget on the backs of the dejected.
Gonzalez reflects upon the nation’s aspirations to be a democracy: The country is divided by the most deplorable sentiments of its national character: racism and bigotry, greed and lust for power, misogyny, fear. What democracy we have laboriously, painfully created during 246 years is undermined and threatened by fascism.
It is a democracy for the few as Michael Parenti describes in his book of the same name.
Gonzales continues: Our prayers of thanks will be said through tears and dread, but thanks must be said for the very gift of life itself, the beauty and the bounty of the sacred Earth, no matter how blasphemed and abused by human folly. Thanks must be given for the compassion and good, the desire for justice and peace carried by the human heart. Thanks for the dedication and self-sacrifice of those who serve. Thanks for our ability to love upon which the revolution that we must make is rooted. Thanks for one another.
I am thankful for a community that grieves with me over the atrocities of life. It is a community that continues to model the ideal of community and respect for each other. It is a community that welcomes strangers and celebrates the continuing birthing of babies and new ideas of alternative futures.
Dr. Howard Thurman reminds us that despite the difficulties of life: It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained. Birds still sing; the stars continue to cast their gentle gleam over the desolation of the battlefields, and the heart is still inspired by the kind word and the gracious deed.
Father Richard Rohr posted an awesome meditation from his Center for Action and Contemplation connecting gratitude and generosity. Upon reading it, my soul came alive in a remarkable way.
Fr. Rohr quotes extensively from Doug Good Feather author of Thinking Indigenous: Native American Spirituality for a Modern World. The Lakota activist shares Indigenous wisdom and practices with nonnative audiences as a way to help and heal humanity according to Rohr and states that no matter what our circumstances, gratitude is available to us.
Good Feather: Each and every morning offers us a chance to start anew, fresh, and to begin again. Each morning when we wake—should we choose to listen—is a message from the Creator to remember the privilege we were given of waking up. It’s a reminder to get up and prepare our self, to honor our self, to go out into the world, to connect with Mother Earth and the hearts of other beings, to inspire and encourage those who cross our paths, and most importantly, to enjoy life.
Rohr: Good Feather highlights the Indigenous virtues of gratitude and generosity:
Good Feather: Gratitude and generosity are similar virtues, but they differ in that gratitude is an internal characteristic and generosity is our external expression of our sense of gratitude. Basically, gratitude is how we feel, and generosity is how we express that feeling out in the world. ...
This is quite an insight. Our generosity reflects our gratitude for what we have received. This is not synonymous with what we have been given. Receiving is spiritual. We can all probably relate to giving something to someone and there is no expression of gratitude. The outward expression of generosity results from an inward appreciation for life, breath, blessings we have received, and opportunities presented us as relatives of the Creator and all of creation. The external gift comes from the recognition and acceptance of the internal gift. The capacity to be in the world is tutored by the fullness within.
Good Feather: When we engage with the world from a place of gratitude, it’s the difference between trying to make something happen and allowing something to happen. The defining difference between effort and effortlessness is the virtue of gratitude. We see the quotes and memes from the sages and gurus that talk about gratitude. But why is gratitude such a core concept of joy, contentment, and well-being in our life? The ancestors tell us there are two primary reasons. The first is that a person cannot exist in a place of fear and true gratitude at the same time. The second is that gratitude is the doorway to divine intuition, which allows us to be guided by our connection with the Creator.
Gratitude moves stagnant energy when we’re feeling stuck in life. The simple act of practicing gratitude disrupts negative thoughts and changes our mindset to see the world in a positive way. Not only are we more attractive to others when we live in gratitude, but the most ordinary things can become extraordinary, creating a fuller, more beautiful expression of our life.
Incorporating gratitude as a daily understanding changes our perspective causing a paradigm shift from self-centeredness into openness and imbues us with a radiance that attracts and inspires.
Good Feather: You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Things don’t happen to us, they happen for us.” Gratitude is the foundation of that adage. It means that our mindset has to be that the universe is generally conspiring and working in our favor. Frequently, when something that we perceive as “bad” happens to us, we let it affect us in a highly negative way. But if we interact with the world from a place of gratitude, when something happens that others may perceive as “bad,” we just see that experience as “interesting.” We are curious about why something happens the way it does, and in expressing that curiosity, we’re actively seeking the part of the experience that we’re grateful for.
And so, it comes to pass in time, that the earth ceases for us to be a weltering chaos. We walk in the great hall of life, looking up and round reverentially. Nothing is despicable – all is meaningful; nothing is small – all is part of a whole, whose beginning and end we know not. The life that throbs in us is a pulsation from it; . . .”
– Olive Schreiner