With Thanksgiving arriving this week, I have had gratitude on my mind. In general, gratitude is like a annoying presence that I could not get rid of – although for many years I tried to do just that, but my anger was no match for it. Ultimately I surrendered and now I am glad, well – grateful – that I did so.
Joy is also a constant companion. Happiness and joy are not the same at all. Once I got that message, I realized that joy was ever present, even in the midst of sorrow. Joy was like a less annoying presence, in fact almost invisible, until opened the door of my heart to usher in gratitude. It all sounds so hackneyed, so cheesy, but it is true. Now I am far from being little Miss Sunshine, if you know me in real life you know that I am easily irritated and typically irascible. Yet, bubbling away on a kettle within me is the ridiculous concoction of joy and gratitude that often steams its way out of me.
It is a mystery to me, but this week, I would like to talk about it more because it all distills down to one thing… We choose both gratitude and joy, no matter what order you experience them, but making those choices are not always easy.
Holidays are often opportunities for manufactured versions of both things… and ticking time bombs of distress as a result, given the family and/or social situations of many of us. May both gratitude and joy be yours this week, in the most profoundly organic way possible, found in the most unexpected places.
I sometimes post this video to Facebook on my birthday. I think I may have blogged it before… but this time I forgot to post it anywhere! Anyway, another birthday has come and gone (about a week ago now), and as ever, I remain deeply grateful to be alive.
What I love about the song is that it richly exposes some of the things that can bring us to new places. For example:
Thank you terror Thank you disillusionment Thank you frailty Thank you consequence Thank you thank you silence
Terror, disillusionment, frailty, consequence and silence are among the many gifts my many years have given me. Where would I be without them? How we love to celebrate strength and victory, but there is a treasure that we can mine if we go deep into the shadowy spaces.
With the song on my mind and gratitude on my heart, with Thanksgiving a few days away, I thought this would be a nice way to begin the week. Thank you for reading and following my blog. Postings have been sparse, but I’m still here. And so are you! Thank you!
What kind of title is that for a Thanksgiving post? Let’s step back for a moment so that I can explain.
First of all, I am not a big Alanis Morissette fan. Hey, I don’t dislike her, but her music was never held great pull for me. So what does that have to do with Thanksgiving or this blog? Well, she has one song that I absolutely LOVE. From the first time I ever heard “Thank U” I was turned around. The song came along a time in my life when the lyrics hit me in a particular way. Although my life has changed tremendously since then, the song still means to much to me. And the song is “Thank U” and it is after all…
When I was on Camino the song was often in my head. I did have it on my phone, so one day I played it for myself, a day near the end of the Camino. Maybe it was even our last day of walking? Listening to it made me VERY weepy. One of the things that I did when I got home was to rewatch The Way – and imagine my surprise to find the song used in the film. At some level I must have known that, but it was not conscious.
Today on Thanksgiving I am deeply grateful for many things. Like some of what Alanis writes about in the song, I find myself as grateful for the difficult things as much as the good things.
Terror, frailty, insecurity, pain, challenge – what gifts these are! When I was younger I could not see the world that way at all. Life’s elements lined up into two categories, GOOD and BAD. Frequently I believed that the BAD outnumbered the GOOD by far. Poor me. Truth be told, some horrible things happened.
One day I was getting my hair cut and the woman who cut it at the time was listening to my usual litany of complaints about problems in my life, and about past experiences that had been so painful. She stopped what she was doing and glared at me… I could see both of our reflections in the mirror and I felt terrified because she looked so angry. Basically she told me that it might be helpful if I could see my problems in the context of good. The rest of the hair cut time passed in an awkward silence, but her words stayed with me.
Could I be grateful for terrible things, at least things that I perceived as terrible?
The answer, over time, turned into yes. Today I think of all that I am grateful for in my life and I imagine it in the context of what that cost my soul. Instead of seeing that cost as value lost, I see it in the light of what came forth. It is sort of like being buried in a garbage heap and making one’s way to the top. When your head emerges you can see and breathe! Where is the focus? The horror of being buried in the heap or the exquisite joy of making your way out into the air? Bye-bye GOOD and BAD. One cannot exist without the other, can it? A more holistic way of seeing, a more integrative way of living brings forth many gifts, garbage heaps and all.
Enough about terror and disillusionment, allow me to allow a word about silence. In our word of constant noise, chatter, social media, too many tasks, too many things, too much information, silence is a lost gift. For a long time I have tried to preserve ways of keeping silence. Some have worked better than others.
When I was on Camino I had extended periods of silence. Not just the hours spent walking in silence with friends nearby, but not in conversation, but also the silence that came from being removed from the quotidian explosion of noise. And by that I mean externally as well as internally… Real silence.
Maybe as we mull over what we are grateful for we can imagine new ways of being. God knows the world could use some new ways, right? We will all have different ways of experiencing this. Sometimes our wounds are too fresh and new for us to gather in the horror and pain of life. Sometimes silence is the last thing a person needs because of their life circumstances. We are all on different paths, different “caminos” of life.
May you find some modicum of gratitude and joy today. And if you cannot, know that you are not alone in your circumstances. May change come to all of us, even if it starts with a hair stylist holding a pair of scissors and glaring at you with stink eyes! A little levity, but I am serious. We never know where our joy will come from, do we? Anyway, today I say thank you for many things. And I am very grateful to all of you who read this blog. Wherever you are in the world, know that you are part of my Thanksgiving, and I hold you in the heart of my prayers today. Thank You.
Today’s post is to address the fact that being thankful is not like a switch that is flipped from off to on, and that holidays may be difficult for some of us. Thankfully, that’s not the case here, but things used to be different. For much of my life I was simply miserable. A big part of the problem is that I was thankless. The lens through which I viewed my life was one of what I didn’t have, couldn’t have, wouldn’t have. If something good happened, it was not enough, or not just right, or whatever it took to whip up misery and anger.
Now if you knew me at that time, you might not have been aware of this, but if you knew me well – well then, you know what I’m talking about. In any case, I was always seeing things with my nose pressed up against some glass that seemed to separate me from everything I wanted. Most of the time I was sure that I had (warning – bad theology alert) done something that caused God to give me the short shrift. Seriously. Thanks for nothing could have been my personal motto.
Today, I am grateful to be able to say that I am – well, grateful. It takes very little for me to conjure up gratitude, and I do not say that lightly. It is grace and gift to be sure, I try not to take it for granted. Having said all that, that earlier version of me remains, lurking around the dark underbelly of my psyche, and will pop out unexpectedly like a furious jack-in-the-box. Boy, do I hate when that happens.
The reason for this is that we are awash in reminders of gratitude and thankfulness at Thanksgiving. This year I noticed more than a few articles stating the benefits of gratitude, as if it were a product to be sold. “Be grateful, science says it’s good for you!” I’m a little sad that gratitude has to be packaged and sold, as if it were a health supplement available at a drugstore in order for people to get with it. Part of me wants to say (warning – bad language alert), “for f*cks sake, drop that gratitude bulls*t!!” Sorry, but that is the truth. The point of all this being – not everyone can jump into that whole be thankful all the time attitude of gratitude thing on demand.
As a Roman Catholic, I am ever reminded that when we come to the table for Eucaristia, which means thanksgiving. It is about what we give – and not what we get. Sacramentally speaking, we don’t “get” or “receive” communion, we enter into it offering our gifts, turning ourselves over to God. That’s the idea anyway, I’m not always so good at that part. Withholding comes a little bit too naturally to me, but I’m trying.
Today I am thinking about how gratitude is always an exercised choice. Often best made, when you are simply going through the motions. After doing so, many years ago, I found myself surprised as I realized that I was truly are grateful.
At the Thanksgiving mass, we typically get a prayer to use at our table. Today we received a copy of this prayer, asking us to reflect with it today, and as the week goes on. Written by Howard Thurman in 1959, these words are a gift at any time of year. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I wish you peace.
A Litany of Thanksgiving by Howard Thurman
Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.
I begin with the simple things of my days: Fresh air to breathe, Cool water to drink, The taste of food, The protection of houses and clothes, The comforts of home.
For these, I make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
I bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that I have known: My mother’s arms, The strength of my father, The playmates of my childhood, The wonderful stories brought to me from the lives of many who talked of days gone by when fairies and giants and all kinds of magic held sway; The tears I have shed, the tears I have seen; The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye with its reminder that life is good.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads: The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security; The tightening of the grip in a single handshake when I feared the step before me in the darkness; The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied; The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when my decision hung in the balance.
For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage: The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning; The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams; The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see; The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations; The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons, whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places; The saviors whose blood was shed with a recklessness that only a dream could inspire and God could command.
For all this I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.
I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind: The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts; The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never reached for the highest; The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel, I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee, Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.
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