Throughout this month, we have focused on a topic I have called "Living Beautifully." Living beautifully is living in relationship, living in balance, living in connection, and living without
holding on to anger - either toward others or toward ourselves.
I've saved for this last Sunday of the month what may be the most important part of living beautifully. The word I will use is gratitude, although I know that it is in some ways the wrong
word for many of you.
Oh, you are all for gratitude, but you are probably thinking about it in the way I think about it when I remember my grandparents berating me for not sending a thank-you note for a gift they sent me. Gratitude was simply the opposite of ungrateful, as in 'you ungrateful little brat', which - in their defence - was not the way they put it - only the way I heard it.
Johannes Gaertner said something about gratitude that is a great help in bring gratitude into focus in the way I mean it: "To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven."
It is this third way of engaging with gratitude - living gratitude - that I want to talk about today.
Speaking gratitude is politeness. It is civility. It is an essential part of growing up to be an acceptable part of our society, for being successful in the workplace, to avoid giving offense.
Enacting gratitude is being truly and sincerely grateful for kindnesses done to us, for gifts given to us, even for our health, our freedom, a sunny day, or the ability to purchase something special. It is especially "gratitude to" - it is to be grateful to some giver. Many religious people experience gratitude in this way - giving thanks to some supernatural being or beings for giving to us - which is usually followed by asking for something more...
Living gratitude is something far greater and deeper and more pervasive. "Living gratitude" is finding the opportunity to appreciate deeply every tiny wonder in our lives. And living gratitude is finding that wonder in just about everything.
Living gratitude is Christopher Wiseman growing in joy at the presence of moonlight through his windows although the Canadian cold is bitter and has lasted seemingly forever.
Living gratitude is Billy Collins marvelling with delight at solar system and then at smaller and smaller aspects - the trout, the yellow feather. Living gratitude is like this. There is always an
opportunity for happiness when the tiniest things can make us happy.
If I go to the grocery store and I say thank you to the person who gives me my change and packs up my bag, I am speaking gratitude. If I am at that same shop and I actually feel grateful to that person, I am enacting gratitude.
If I am living gratitude, I am moved to tears by the lemons. So yellow, so shiny, so fragrant... I can imagine the tartness. How can anything be so amazing?
I move on and the fresh dill catches my eye. What delicate fronds... an indescribable aroma of freshness and earth. My heart flies to my grandmother's cooking, to cured salmon at
Christmas... My knees are weak with delight...
Of course, going to the shop and fully living gratitude could take a very long time...
To be ungrateful, in this sense of 'living gratitude' is not to be churlish or rude - we might write lovely thank you notes and even be truly thankful. To be ungrateful in this sense is simply to be unhappy much of the time and always reaching for something more.
David Steindl-Rast - who is a wonderfully wise Benedictine monk - tells us that "Gratefulness is the key to a happy life." "If we are not grateful" he says "then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more."
And this is what we do - this is what we are trained to do by our culture and especially by the advertising that is geared to creating exactly such an insatiable desire.
Living gratitude is not something that comes to us automatically. It is not something that is encoded in our DNA that some have and others do not. Living gratitude is a way of being that we must learn and practice if we wish to be happy and spread that happiness to the others around us.
And this is not something that we can simply talk about any more than we can get good at tennis, or playing piano, or painting by talking about those subjects...
Fortunately, gratitude requires no special equipment! So let's take a few moments now to practice.
I'd like you to bring to mind first an experience where you were absolutely bowled over with delight. Maybe it was seeing the night sky far from the city lights and marvelling at the millions of visible twinkling lights in the sky. Maybe it was a warm and tender tiny little puppy or kitten in your arms. Perhaps it was the first amazing blush of new love. A newborn child.
Find that feeling and bring it into your heart. It may feel like a lightness, an exhilaration in the area of your heart. It may make your head feel funny.
Now, look around this room and find something ordinary - anything or anyone really. Look. Begin to consider where it has come from? What might be its history? What brought it to this place and this time? Think how different it might be. Think how easily it could have been otherwise. Feel its intrinsic beauty. Feel its worth within you. See if you can let that same feeling of the delight of gratitude come to you over this small thing you notice.
And now, do the same with one other object - an easier one if you had trouble with the first or a more obscure one if the first was very successful.
Now, if you are comfortable doing so, I'd ask you to find one person near you and share with each other your experience of practicing gratitude in this way. If you lived gratitude for even a moment, can you share that feeling and spread it as a gift to this other soul?
I am filled with delight right now at this place and with you - with every one of you individually and especially with you as a community. 'Thank you' doesn't begin to capture it. Delight starts to come close.
May you know the joy of living gratitude all of your days so that you need never want for more.