This evening during yoga practice, I had the great invitation from the instructor to set an intention for my practice. The word that came to mind was gratitude. It may be my furlough week, but my work is always on the brain. And our theme for worship services next month is, not-so-surprisingly, gratitude.
I am continually annoyed at the Oprah-esque, Diet Coke, soft spirituality of gratitude. Gratitude: an opiate of narcissists ?
a discerning practice of naming reality as it is and deciding, based on these observations, how one wants to appreciate, embrace and conduct one’s life?
OK, so this is a bit curmudgeonly. Most days I am singing and smiling, but nothing takes the sunshine out of my mood more than seeing those sappy thanksgiving commercials that play on our sentiments to make us buy stuff. Grrrrrr….
Gratitude has become a great way of marketing to the self-help crowd (takes one to know one!) and sending messages like: Yes, love your life, everything is fine! Don’t listen to those people on the streets (99% anyone?)…instead, how about a new car that celebrates you and who you are! Be grateful…and buy stuff! Buy stuff and you will have plenty for which to be thankful. Moreover, you might be in god’s favor when you buy nice things (so you better buy nice things just to have your bases covered. Nice Hummer, pastor!)
And how many who struggle daily in their lives to survive can accept that they should just be grateful? “Oh yes, God, thank you so much for this day in which I discovered I have cancer.” “Thank you, mille grazie, for the foreclosure of my home and the medical bills from the merely coincidental heart attack and bevy of tests and hospitalization.” Or, “Oh yes, thank you, Life, for the tsunami!” Or…”Ah, yes, great Cosmos, thank you for the meteor that is barrelling towards the earth.”
But in many ways, this way of thinking about gratitude is one that assumes a certain theological point of view. The point of view it assumes is belief in a certain god who exists in the realm of knowable human logic. If A then B! It also assumes this is a kind of Santa Claus god (and one who had better get a thank you note at that…he was no joke about floods, plagues, and other forms of retribution for being slighted). In this way, I loved the Greeks who, as captured in their plays, would throw up the great apostrophe to the sky, keening, and yell at the gods, “Why did you do this to me?” And you have every freedom to choose to worship and believe those gods. I mean, they have some great stories, AND, sometimes mortals get to procreate with them.
For another tack, let’s assume that god- instead- is a sort of container-like name for that which is beyond human logic but also is something that is known in the heart, in the inner life, in human imagination and even beyond it, some spot in us that observes, that nudges, that judges, that loves, that connects and makes meaning and renders us more human in one another’s eyes, revealing that which connects us and the spaces the hold us in our own integrity. Or, uh, whatever that requires more of a conversation about the mystery and ambiguity of god (or another word you prefer) as a felt presence of the More-Than that endures in the human being. As I know it, this Mystery is more of a companion and less of an agent in control of the things that happen in our lives.
Perhaps setting an intention of gratitude does involve searching for the positive, wonderful moments of grace in life. And yet, I wonder if gratitude is not a sweeping ackowledgement of our sentience: of both the moments of discontent and contentedness all wrapped up in this Life. And would not any good companion urge you to say,
Yes! I am a sentient being!
I get to taste and smell and touch and feel this very life. This life may not be easy. This life may not be fair. And my being grateful does not mean that I will just bend over and take whatever injustices I witness without a fight. I choose gratitude as a way of living…not because I won’t go to heaven if I don’t thank my god…but because I have chosen to love life, to love this earth, to love people.
In the end, the curmudgeonly post ends in the ambiguous and annoyingly lovey-doveyspace of the minister blogger telling you, good people, that gratitude is about the messy act of loving life. Some folks say it simple…like how meditation is simple…but it’s hard. And no Hallmark card can really capture the messiness of loving Life and being thankful.
Today I am grateful for the complex and rich resource that is my family and for the opportunity to be connected to them.
I am grateful for my body and its complexities and my messy and haphazard relationship with it/me.
I am grateful for the continual ways in which I totally mess up and for the forbearance of those around me.
I am humbled by all this and more….I sing my thanks and praise. All hail the wild and wooly life.