Gratitude as Spiritual Practice

Gratitude as spiritual practice can be tricky.  It’s a bit like trying to help actors understand the difference in thinking about doing something or pretending to do something, and actually doing something.

What are we truly grateful for?

For me, gratitude is extremely powerful when you come to the place of awareness where your eyes open to the incredible mystery and blessing of actually being alive on the planet.   “But it all seems so normal,” we say, “and there’s a lot of crap anyway, right?   Yeah, I’m thankful, but life’s beating the hell out of me right now…what’s to be thankful for?  I don’t feel thankful, and yeah, it’s easy from where you sit, in that fat old world of blessing you’re sitting in.”   And we mouth the usual, “Thank you God for this or that, the meal, the family, and the church, blah, blah, blah,” and whatever else is part of usual prayer pattern and language.   All the while gratitude as I think of it is slipping out the back door of our souls.

Maybe it takes a certain kind of stopping.   A dead stop in the day.  A shift in awareness, an intentional stoppage to the grinding.  To zero in on one fact of existence that’s right in front of us…a raindrop, a streak of light, the weight of morning quiet, a series of black marks that make an intelligible word.    The patter of a loved one’s feet as they make their way toward you.   The spreading coolness of water in your chest after a long, thirsty drink.   The lift of spirit as a tenor soars across a high “G”.   Sudden news of the joyful achievement of a goal by someone you’d give your life for.   The escape valve of sobbing, that miraculous way God gave us to move the pain of living through our bodies so we can breath again.

I don’t know the answer to pain.  All the answers seem inadequate.   Gratitude as spiritual practice is no answer to the searing pain that lives on both individual and national planes.   But if the answer to pain lies somewhere in a matrix of thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, medicines, and relationships, then I would argue that at the very least, gratitude opens the doors between all those slippery factors so that light and comfort can miraculously squeeze its way in.

This very moment, what am I grateful for?  For the girl that just got up and now sits across the room from me, my companion of 30+ years.  For the first morning time of 2012, and the fact that God has not gone anywhere, and for my battered faith, still standing after a year of heart-wrenching questions.  For the Christmas tree reminding me of my kids and their recent visit.  For the love I feel in my heart, because there was once a time when I felt so very little.  For the faces of my friends flickering across the screen of my mind, for the fact that I miss them, and for the hope I have of greater things for all of them.   For the music that I’ll play this morning as I lead worship for the first time in a year, and for the angels of my imagination that will be there as they always are.  For the leftover scones from yesterday that wait for me at breakfast.   For growing courage to face what I don’t want to face.   For God’s incredible patience.   For learning how to be grateful.

I have no idea what God has in store in 2012.   But gratitude for whatever is coming is not a resolution.   It’s a commitment.

Make thanks a part of your daily bread.   Say it whenever you can, whenever it’s truly true.  And let flourishing increase…

Wishing you more peace than you can stand in 2012…

7 Comments

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  1. I came across this as I was browsing blogs this morning. Thank you- this is what I need to remember as I begin 2012!

  2. Jeff, 2011 kick my butt in such a way that I felt like I shed a skin. What entered was a practice of gratitude. Thanks for sharing about this as I have no had words to put to it. Just two days ago in preparing my mind for 2012 I sensed that while I may have shed a skin in 2011, I am as Eustace and have many layers to come before I am back to the boy I have bee created to be.

    • Hey, Michael, thanks for stopping by. Hopefully, the shedding of layers will yield precisely the result you intimate…painful, but good. We should grab coffee sometime… I’m assuming you’re referring to the C.S. Lewis character Eustace? I need to go back and read those again. Blessings…

  3. Jeff – This is so wonder-full, and so vulnerable, that I’ve kept it in my mail box for a couple of days reading and re-reading it.

    I was especially engaged by these ideas; “For me, gratitude is extremely powerful when you come to the place of awareness where your eyes open to the incredible mystery and blessing of actually being alive on the planet.

    Maybe it takes a certain kind of stopping. A dead stop in the day. A shift in awareness, an intentional stoppage to the grinding. To zero in on one fact of existence that’s right in front of us…a raindrop, a streak of light, the weight of morning quiet, a series of black marks that make an intelligible word.”

    Thank you for reminding me to pause, to look around and absorb, and not to feel the slightest guilt for having done so.

    May 2012 hold for you God’s unfathomable peace blessings.

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