Updated: May 13, 2020
How do we live gratefully in these painful times? Turn on the tv, read the news, listen to a podcast/radio talk show, canvass for a candidate, talk to a friend and we may wring our hands feeling heightened anxiety, righteous anger, or both. But gratefulness? Maybe a church or synagogue offers solace and engagement. Maybe a yoga class or meditation workshop invites steadiness and clarity. Maybe the company of friends and family shore us up with laughter and warmth. Maybe civic engagement or political activism stems the rising tide of sadness about the rancor and division in our nation.
These choices all reinforce me. And I inevitably turn to learn more.
Gratefulness, a bedrock belief that all life is a gift, more specifically, every moment is gratuitous, it’s extra, changes the way we live. Brother David Steindl-Rast invites us to live each day as if it is the first and the last day of our life saying that would be a day well spent. But how?
Surprise is the start of gratefulness. Poet Mary Oliver writes often of surprise. In “Song of the Builders” she speaks of sitting outside to think about God and seeing a cricket – “moving the grains of the hillside” with energy and effort. She suggests that here in the tiny rhythms of the cricket is larger meaning.
Brother David recounts his experience as a teenager seeking refuge in a church during a Nazi air raid in his Austrian village. After the bombing stops, he sees devastation around him – buildings gone, rubble everywhere, and then he notices sunlight warming a small spot of green grass. It is this recognition of life in the midst of death and destruction that sustains him. Paying attention…to the clouds in the sky, to the face of a stranger, to the words of a friend …is wholehearted living. He writes, “Are we not dead to whatever we take for granted?” And, even more radical than encouraging us to “wake up!” is the idea that this mindfulness can transform the world, that every tiny act lived out of gratefulness can make a difference.
Unconvinced? I’m a natural optimist, less skeptical than some, but let me continue to build this case. Visionary and author Charles Eisenstein in a short video, A New Story of the People, describes how we’ve accepted an old story supported by religion, psychology, economics, physics, that humans are separate, discrete from the world… rational actors. New sciences challenge this worldview countering that we’re not separate from each other or the world in which we live, and our interdependency means whatever is going on in the world “we’re doing to ourselves”.
So what if we act out of our new story of connection? And consider living with this intention of interdependency? Eisenstein contends that acting out of this commitment to our shared humanity is both spiritual and political. And, we give up the paradigm of control, bowing more deeply into service, and coming to the limits of our courage.
Resources for grateful living mentioned above:
Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness by David Steindl-Rast
Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
A New Story of the People, Charles Eisenstein