I don’t remember – it has been so long now – but somewhere, sometime ago, I began to start emails, letters, cards and the like with the same phrase: “May the grace and peace of Christ be with you.” It is an expression that begins many of St. Paul’s letters, in one form or another, e.g., Galatians 1:3. It is not a scripted beginning; there is a great deal of intention about it. There are times when I am in a hurry, responding to emails, that I am reminded at the end to return to the beginning and insert the greeting. It often leads to editing of the email if there is some part that does not have grace or peace about it.
I was curious how often St. Paul begins letters this way. It is a fairly easy thing to flip through his letters to survey the landscape. Along the way I discovered something else: how often St. Paul begins his letters with an expression of gratitude. Consider these verses:
First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is heralded throughout the world. (Romans 1:8)
I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:4-7)
I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)
Scholars tells us that this was the convention of writing letters in St. Paul’s day and age, in which a word of thanksgiving near the beginning of the letter was expected. But notice that St. Paul has an expression of gratitude that is specific to each of the communities to whom he writes. Notice, too, that the particular word of gratitude not only praises them, but also leads Paul to an experience of joy.
In the pastor’s column from last week, we chatted about the connection between happiness and gratitude. I hope you took the time to watch Br. David’s video. If I would reduce the entire video to one sentence it might be this counter-intuitive idea: it’s not that happy people are grateful, but rather that grateful people are happy and have deep experiences of joy.
Br. David reaches that conclusion from a lifetime of reflection, spiritual direction, and a graced wisdom. The good folks at Soul Pancake took research about the connection between expressing gratitude and happiness, replicated the experiment, and filmed it for others to see. Take seven minutes to watch the video. I bet you will not make it to the end without an experience of the truth of seeing Br. David’s message played out in the lives of real people like you and me. Warning: a tear or two are also possible; such is the experience of gratitude expressed. And, if that video wasn’t enough, here is a follow-up video.
Gratitude creates happiness and is contagious. The more you express your gratitude, the more others will express theirs and grow happier, inspiring others to do the same. I think we have to plan to make the world a more grateful place. So, take out your pencil and paper, gather your thoughts, share that gratitude with others. Then you will truly know the grace and peace of Christ.