Gratitude: A Quiet Discipline, An Offering, A Setting Down, An Unfreezing of the Heart, A Spiritual Continuum

Featured

I wake up every day tired, mostly of me. This is how depression repeatedly exposes itself to me, in exhaustion. With each breath and step in the day, with every mundane activity only reinforcing my life’s obvious lack of direction. It is sad. I seem unable to enjoy life.

Sometimes I think this is easily solvable.  Do I have a lack of gratitude for all the good in my life? It might look like that if you saw my beautiful life.

DSC_0128

If pushed I can name all the things for which I am thankful. In my bleaker moments, I imagine that I don’t know how to live out this gratitude.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart  (c. 1260 – c. 1327)

I don’t completely agree, but I know that it is up there in importance in the spiritual formation of a believing heart. Anne Lamott says help, thanks, wow in her tiny book by that title.

To implore, to give thanks and to offer praise create the liminal places preparing us for a deeper spiritual life. This allows for a vulnerable, more exposed and prepared spiritual self.

It is lost to us when we get caught up in over thinking and not allow ourselves moments in the day when we let go of that rigid way of spirituality in the form of dry and useless ingratitude.

The wonderful Catholic visionary and author of more than 40 books Joan Chittister says:

“Gratitude is not only the posture of praise. It is also the basic element of real belief in God.”

This convicts my aching, thankless, over thinking mind and heart.

One of my favorite spiritual fathers, a gently resplendent author, the late Henri Nouwen, is the most convincing to me today. As a recovering alcoholic I seem to have many resentments that crowd in before I know it. I can go through a whole day, my brain buzzing with one resentment or critical thought after another, and then before I realize it my physical body and spiritual heart and heartless brain are full.  I am brimming with bitterness and judgement.

In Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit he said:

“”The opposite of resentment is gratitude (from the Latin gratia = favor). Gratitude is more than an occasional ‘thanks be to God.’ Gratitude is the attitude that enables us to let go of anger, receive the hidden gifts of those we want to serve, and make these gifts visible to the community as a source of celebration …” When I think about what it means to live and act in the name of Jesus, I realize that what I have to offer to others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness, through which the love of God can manifest itself. Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.”  (My emphasis)

My bleak spiritual state is so obvious to me when I am depressed. But to dwell there deciding my life is useless would be the real tragedy. Even with and perhaps because of depression, even with some of the things that plague so many of us including spiritual doubt, incessant fear or anxiety, the self-hatred so many struggle with, our life’s deep regrets and our brokenness.

Before God these are my questions. Am I am able to let go of them and lay them in prayer at the Cross? Can I set them down to pick up the communion bread and cup? Can I find, as a daily discipline, a few things for which I can say thanks? If this is hard, especially for a melancholic person like myself, I think it’s paramount to express thanks as a part of our life of spiritual discipline.

Gratitude it’s an offering. Gratitude is a discipline. It is a setting down of bitter burdens to try to trust God with our brokenness.

Gratitude I think is the ultimate trust.  This isn’t a formula; rather it is a part of life’s spiritual continuum.

celestial snow

Wisconsin has had more than 30 days below zero already this winter.  It’s a hard place for me to live. It’s a cold, wrecked bitter place. But it also has great beauty such as snowflakes falling this morning; dancing as they fall, whirling playfully and slowly, and dropping to the already covered ground.  I have to admit, sitting here in my warm house it is beautiful to see the snow form into an angel.

Gratitude is a spiritual or life discipline that can bring health and heart healing.

1-DSC_0036

For the next 30 days or so, through the bleakest whitest part of winter, I’m going to keep track in writing. Want to try it with me?  Perhaps the last activity before sleep or first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee.  Take a moment to write five things (or even one) for which you are grateful.

Will this cause an inner shift in my frozen, depressed heart caught up in its own gloom? It may not.  It may simply get me through this frozen winter.  Whatever the outcome, I’m a little more hopeful today.

Let me know if you’re going to try 30 days or nights of private gratitude. Let’s step toward this hope together.

Good People (those that toil, so that others can create)

There are people,

good people who toil every day

at work they don’t love and some

days simply endure.

Why do these people, good people do that?

They’re partnered with a creative soul;

a dreamer, someone

who scribbles words one after another, collected into pages

of an idea that is yet to come;

that hears a different drum beat and dance;

who changes others’ trajectory through an image or a song;

who observes  life for its beauty and complexity;

who follows an uncomfortable path into the unknown.

These people, good people do

their everyday work because they love a dreamer.

Here’s to the good people whose love’s labor

is a gift to us all.

 

For Tom and Carol and the other good people.

Gratitude, Not a Cliche

My arm is killing me today from the surgery yesterday to remove potentially hazardous skin, but it isn’t Melanoma, the ‘bad’ cancer.  I’m thankful for good health.  I’m even more thankful that I’ve been depression-free for more than a year and that is just damn good news, when you’ve travelled to the depths of darkness and feared your own return.

I want a glass of wine, but I’m drinking non-alcoholic beer. I’m thankful for my sobriety. Though it has caused me to be “self-centered,” sobriety is worth losing some social life.  I’m thankful that I’m not falling down drunk this thanksgiving, or even heavily tipsy, at 4:00 in the afternoon, like years past.  It is amazing how your mind remembers, I woke up this morning wanting to drink today.  After months of sobriety and not even thinking about it, it’s kind of strange.

The pumpkin pie I baked today from scratch is the ugliest pie I have EVER made, but it was made with love, and it will (hopefully) taste good.  And if not, well, I’m thankful to not have to hold on to perfection as the ideal, because I fail it miserably and this pie is a good metaphor and reminder for me.

I have loads of laundry to be done, but I am thankful that we have such abundance.  Our home, Tom’s business, cars, food, health care; I could go on and on.

I lost a friend recently when I thought we were close, but I am thankful that learned some things.  I learned that I can be manipulative, and selfish.  And that friendship isn’t unconditional, but depends on how healthy you are and whether you cause a person too much work.  I play what you call “games” and am not there for my friends, as much as I need them to be there for me.

My family is spread out all over the country and has slipped apart since my father’s death, but I’m thankful that my 70 year old Mother is healthy and should live a good long time.

I’ve been forgiven by God for the many mistakes I’ve made in my life.  His grace is something I don’t fully comprehend, but as I am forgiven by him, which is undeserved, I can forgive others.

I’m thankful for my husband Tom who held me recently and whispered “It’s going to be okay.”  He’ll never know how much those words meant to me, because often I am afraid that it is NOT GOING TO BE OKAY!  He is an amazing man and I am often so undeserving of his graciousness and love.  He picks me up off the floor and reminds me of all the good things.

I’m thankful for my children, each of them unique and beautiful in their own way.  I am so thankful for their innocence, their unconditional love and the hugs.  My kids love to give and receive hugs.

I’m thankful that my kids are able to get an education, live in a free society where ideas can be expressed without fear, and they can believe in God without fear of oppression.  I’m thankful for Barack Obama!

Being thankful, no it isn’t a cliche.  I am thankful.