Reflections on gratitude as a spiritual practice: final week of Taste & See series

Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life. ― Rumi

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. ― Melody Beattie

PRAYER

O my Great Elder, I have no words to thank you,
But with your deep wisdom I am sure that you can see
How I value your glorious gifts … when I look upon your greatness, I am confounded with awe. O Great Elder, Ruler of all things earthly and heavenly, I am … ready to act in accordance with your will.
— Excerpted from Kikuya Prayer (Kenya)

Savoring the Small Stuff: Ordinary Gratitude as Spiritual Practice  (excerpt from full article) — Carl Gregg
 … ways that we can be more intentional about noticing and responding to the parts of our lives for which we are most (and least) grateful. I. Noticing… What do you tend to notice in your daily life? And why? … we could notice at any given time — different sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, or emotions — but our personalities shape what stands out to us and what fades into the background … you can amplify the power of this practice — and keep yourself accountable to regularly noticing what you are grateful for — by making a commitment to share your daily gratitude (or gratitudes) with someone else, whether it is a child, a partner, or a friend.

II. The Awareness Examen

… one of the most consistently helpful ways … is a practice called the Awareness Examen … It helps you weigh the value of various aspects of your life. The examen was first detailed by Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th century founder of the Jesuits … shorter and more accessible book by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn called Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. In short, the examen encourages you to respond to two questions at the end of each day either around the dinner table with your family or silently before you go to sleep: … you can ask “What am I most grateful for today?” and “What am I least grateful for today?” Over time, to add nuance, you can ask variations on your consolations such as, “Where did I feel most connected, most alive, most energized, or most loved?” Correspondingly, you can ask “Where did I feel most isolated, most enervated, or most taken for granted?”

… And as you notice patterns of what consistently makes you feel connected, alive, energized, and loved, the invitation is to find ways to cultivate more of that person, place, or activity in your life. … As you notice patterns of what consistently makes you feel isolated, enervated, or taken for granted, an invitation is to consider if you should find ways to have less of that person, place, or activity in your life.

III. The Spiritual Practice of Savoring

This practice of noticing and choosing what is life-affirming over what is life-negating can seem particularly simple or obvious: structure your life to do morefrequently those things that bring you consolation and do less frequently those things that bring you desolation … gently think back through my day, and name those things I’m grateful for. It’s honestly a great way to fall asleep: savoringthose things you are most grateful for. … Of course, all this talk about gratitude and savoring is easier said than done. Cultivating ordinary gratitude, noticing our consolations and desolations, and savoring them are all practices that happen over time. As with practicing the piano, practicing basketball, or practicing yoga, method and frequency matter … “Practices doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it does make permanent.” … Practice makes permanent by ingraining habits that are difficult to break.

Application

For now, with the potential stress and joy of Thanksgiving still a few days away, I invite you to spend a short time practicing the art of savoring. Ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” Then, pause in the silence, and listen. Allow yourself to be potentially surprised about what emerges for you as a source of gratitude. As you do so, remember the guidance from Buddha’s Brain: “Make [your consolation] last by staying with it for 5, 10, even 20 seconds [or longer].” Savor this source of gratitude with your whole self. “Focus on your emotions and body sensations…. Let the experience fill your body and be as intense as possible.”

  • What are you grateful for in your life?
  • What do you need to savor?

Other articles on gratitude:

  • Gratitude practices by Deepak Chopra (full article)“What am I grateful for?” is one of four key questions that practitioners pose to themselves prior to entering into meditation. Such practices of gratitude bring awareness to and appreciation of the positive features within and around us, helping us to embrace life as it is with all of its imperfections. Other practices to consciously cultivate a grateful life include journaling, counting blessings, savoring positive moments, and behavioral expressions of gratitude such as thank you notes, to name a few. By cultivating gratitude, we cultivate wellbeing.
  • Start a Gratitude Practice — Melissa, Lionheart Life

For Abundance

In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life. — Anne Morrow Lindbergh 

How I show love has always been through food. That, for me, has been the foundation of how I express gratitude for anybody around me. — Antoni Porowski

Gratitude for the present moment and the fullness of life now is the true prosperity.  – Eckhart Tolle 

None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy. —Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.  – Doris Day 

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for. — Zig Ziglar

Happiness cannot be traveled to owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. – Denis Waitley

When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.– Anthony Robbins 

What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude. – Brene Brown 

When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around. – Willie Nelson

 Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. —Oprah Winfrey

As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us. – James E. Faust 

As Connection to Holiness

Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude. Such a perspective puts God in view in all of life, not just in the moments we set aside for worship or spiritual disciplines. Not just in the moments when life seems easy. — Henri Nouwen

All human bodies are things lent by God.  With what thought are you using them? — Terrikyo. Ofudesaki 3.41 

I acknowledge my feeling and gratitude for life by praising the world and whoever made all these things. — Mary Oliver

I acknowledge with great gratitude the peace and contentment we can find for ourselves in the spiritual cocoons of our homes, our sacrament meetings, and our holy temples. — James E. Faust

Be not like those who honor their gods in prosperity and curse them in adversity.  In pleasure or pain, give thanks! — Midrash, Mekilta to Exodus 20.20

O you who believe!  Eat of the good things that We have provided for you, and be grateful to God, if it is Him that you worship. — Qur’an 2.172

‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding. — Alice Walker

It is God who has made the night for you, that you may rest therein, and the day, as that which helps you to see.  Verily God is full of grace and bounty to men, yet most men give no thanks.  It is God who has made for you the earth as a resting place, and the sky as a canopy, and has given you shape–and made your shapes beautiful–and has provided for you sustenance of things pure and good; such is God, your Lord. So glory to God, the Lord of the Worlds! — Qur’an 40.61, 64

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’  — C. S. Lewis

As Action

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. — John F. Kennedy

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts. —Henri Frederic Amiel

You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it. —Lyndon B. Johnson

Feeling gratitude isn’t born in us – it’s something we are taught, and in turn, we teach our children. — Joyce Brothers

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. —William Arthur Ward

As Mindfulness

Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe. — Wayne Dyer

For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile. — Elie Wiesel

The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. — Henri Nouwen

Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented. – Sonja Lyubomirsky 

I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude. — Brene Brown

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. —Robert Brault

It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up. — Eckhart Tolle

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness. —Dalai Lama

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. — John Milton

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. —Albert Einstein

As Practice



If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. — Meister Eckhart

Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart. – Larissa Gomez

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. — Rabbi Harold Kushner 

The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. —Charles Schwab

We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean… and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect. — Michelle Obama

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. — Charles Dickens

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. — William Arthur Ward

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful. – Buddha 

Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give. – Edwin Arlington Robinson 

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. – Epictetus

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. ― G.K. Chesterton

Meditations on Psalm 23 & 1 John 1:7 – Walking in the light

Blessing the Way — Jan Richardson

With every step
you take
this blessing rises up
to meet you.

It has been waiting
long ages for you.

Look close
and you can see
the layers of it,

how it has been fashioned
by those who walked
this road before you

how it has been created
of nothing but
their determination
and their dreaming,

how it has taken
its form
from an ancient hope
that drew them forward
and made a way for them
when no way could be
seen.

Look closer
and you will see
this blessing
is not finished,

that you are part
of the path
it is preparing

that you are how
this blessing means
to be a voice
within the wilderness

and a welcome
for the way.

(Rev Gail’s note: Used as this week’s call to worship)

Meditations on Psalm 23

“… prompted by 9/11 … in the wake of the attack, everybody from my next-door neighbor to Tom Brokaw was asking me, How could God let this happen? The answer I found myself giving was that God’s promise was never that life would be fair. God’s promise was that when we have to confront the unfairness of life, we will be able to handle it because we won’t do it alone–He’ll be with us. After I’d said that a couple of times, I realized that’s the 23rd Psalm. “I will fear no evil for thou art with me.”
Sometimes people lose faith. But sometimes people lose faith in a certain childish conception of God and acquire a more mature conception of God. Paul Tillich once said, “When I was 17 I believed in God. Now that I’m 70 I still believe in God, but not the same God.” A naïve conception of God is a God who is always there to protect us. We replace it with a more realistic understanding of a God who is there to help us through the difficult times in our lives.
— Rabbi Harold Kushner, from interview on Beliefnet

As a kid, I was taught that if you opened the Bible in the middle you’d probably land on the book of Psalms. And near the middle is everyone’s favorite, the 23rd, there is this line: “You prepare a table before in the presence of my enemies.” I don’t know how many times I’ve read or recited this Psalm without pondering what that line actually means, but here is my take on it. When things are a bit tense, when life is not going at its best, when the potential for disaster is just around the corner, when your enemies are all around you – and even staring you down! – that’s when God lays out the red-checkered picnic cloth and says, “Oooo, this is a nice place. Let’s hang out here together for a while…just you and me.” ― David Brazzeal, Pray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul

I was silently reciting to myself the 23rd Psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want …’ The man with the tinted spectacles and the man from the police department were looking at me thoughtfully. They mistook my silence as a sign of weakening. I knew I had to show courage. In fact, I felt much better for having recited the words of the psalm. I had not been so free of fear the whole evening as I was in that moment standing beside the black jeep, a symbol of repression. I lifted my head and said in a loud and firm voice, ‘I’m not guilty! I have nothing to confess.’ ― Nien Cheng, Life and Death in Shanghai

The other names sound somewhat too gloriously and majestically, and bring, as it were, an awe and fear with them, when we hear them uttered. This is the case when the Scriptures call God our Lord, King, Creator. This however, is not the case with the sweet word shepherd. It brings to the godly, when they read it or bear it, as it were a confidence, a consolation, or security like the word father. — Martin Luther, Catholic priest and reformer

It is little wonder the passage has such broad appeal. It is one of the most personal of all Scripture texts … Yet it is all about what a gracious and benevolent shepherd God is, with seemingly no expectation of our offering anything in return.
It is about pure grace.
That’s certainly a message we all need, given how impoverished and dependent we human beings are, and how we much need divine nurture and care, especially in times of loss, loneliness and distress.
But it’s not intended to give us the whole picture of our covenant with God. The other side of the story, found in multitudes of other passages, is about how God calls us and equips us to learn shepherding and nurturing ourselves, and to graciously pass on that love and care to others in need.
It’s that second calling that is so easily and so often overlooked. To a repentant Peter, Jesus’s message is that if you really love me, you will shepherd my sheep, feed my lambs, lead others to places of nourishment and growth (e.g., to “feed” them).
In other words, we are called to be both aware of our spiritual poverty, to be receivers of grace, and to be a means by which we convey grace and help to others. God’s shalom is always to be passed on … In other words, having been blessed by Psalm 23-style shepherding, we practice that same kind of shepherding toward others.  — Rev Harvey Yoder, excerpt from Mennonite blog posting.

Meditations on Light:

The Properties of Light Eric Gamalinda (excerpt)

… one of the elms
has changed early, burning with a light
grown accustomed to its own magnificence,

imperceptible until this moment when it becomes
more than itself, more than a ritual
of self-immolation. I think of sacrifice

as nourishment, the light feeding bark and veins
and blood and skin, the tree better off
for wanting nothing more. I used to imagine

the chakra like this—a hole in the soul
from the top of the head, where the light of knowing
can shimmer through. In the summer of 1979

I saw that light shoot from my brother’s forehead
as we sat chanting in a temple in Manila.
He didn’t see it pulsing like a bulb in a storm,

but he said he felt the warmth that wasn’t warmth
but peace. And I, who have never been
so privileged, since then have wondered

if we believed everything because not to believe
was to be unhappy. I’ve seen that light elsewhere
—on a river in Bangkok, or pixeled across

the shattered façades of Prague—but it is here
where I perceive its keenest rarity, where I know
it has passed over all the world, has given shape

to cities, cast glamour over the eyes of the skeptic,
so that it comes to me informed with the wonder
of many beings. I can’t begin to say how infinite I feel,

as though I were one of many a weightless absence
touches, and out of this a strange transformation:
the soul ringed with changes, as old as a tree,

as old as light. I am always learning the same thing:
there is no other way to live than this,
still, and grateful, and full of longing.

Let the Light Enter
— Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

“The Dying Words of Goethe”

“Light! more light! the shadows deepen,
And my life is ebbing low,
Throw the windows widely open:
Light! more light! before I go.

“Softly let the balmy sunshine
Play around my dying bed,
E’er the dimly lighted valley
I with lonely feet must tread.

“Light! more light! for Death is weaving
Shadows ‘round my waning sight,
And I fain would gaze upon him
Through a stream of earthly light.”

Not for greater gifts of genius;
Not for thoughts more grandly bright,
All the dying poet whispers
Is a prayer for light, more light.

Heeds he not the gathered laurels,
Fading slowly from his sight;
All the poet’s aspirations
Centre in that prayer for light.

Gracious Saviour, when life’s day-dreams
Melt and vanish from the sight,
May our dim and longing vision
Then be blessed with light, more light.

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