I am often given to repeating St. Bonaventure’s wise counsel: humility is the guardian and gateway to all the other virtues…and the first evidence of it is gratitude. We can all have moments in which we are profoundly grateful, but are we grateful people? The first is a description of a moment in time, deeply remembered; the second is an intrinsic condition of who you are as a person. It is at the root of your being, it is the lens through which you see the world, and it is the mode by which you engage the world. Even as I write that last sentence, I am thinking, “Gosh, I want to be that person!”
There is an old story of a first-time visitor to New York City, a bit lost in the labyrinth of the city’s public transportation, who stops and ask a native city-dweller, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was: “Practice, practice, practice.” We practice all kinds of things in our life – but do we practice gratitude? One thing we know for sure is that on Thanksgiving Day we will run up upon a day when we are very consciously called to be grateful. It is a day in which our traditions call for an awareness of blessing and a willingness or even eagerness to offer thanks for that blessing. But are we arriving at this special day only considering the good fortune in our life? It is as though we arrived at Carnegie Hall, but we have only practiced one short melody, which we do earnestly, but once the tune is over….well, what’s next?
This is the first of a series of three columns on gratitude. My basic thought is that if we want to be “that person” who possesses gratitude as a way of being in the world, then we ought to consider “gratitude” and perhaps “practice, practice, practice.” The timing before Thanksgiving seem opportune.
Our awareness of gratitude – is it primarily an awareness of blessing and good fortune? Consider St. Paul, writing to the people of Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice!’ Rejoice, give thanks, be grateful – always. When things are going well and not so well. When life seems rich and blessings abundant, and when they seem scarce. Indeed, Paul continues, saying, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (Phil 4:4,6) By the way, Paul is writing all this from prison. Gratitude is available to us anytime and in all manner of circumstance. Gratitude is more than an emotion, it is a way of life. Gratitude arises from a determined commitment to see the blessings of this life, and a steadfast and practiced resolve of noticing and focusing on what is good.
Thanksgiving is about a month away; we have a couple of weeks to begin reflecting on gratitude and how to become a deeply and truly grateful person. Let us all take some time this week and practice. This week’s coach is Br. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine brother who asks the question: “Want to be happy? Be grateful!” in his very insightful TED talk. It is but a first step on a journey to being the grateful person, a happy person, and a person who can discover the power of gratitude and its contagious nature. Please take some time this week to practice gratitude.