Truth be told, I can be pretty snarky and judgmental. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. Sometimes the filter between what I am thinking and what comes out of my mouth is out of order. This is rarely a good thing. As the bar for human interaction sinks lower and lower, I find my own behavior changing as well, and it is alarming. When it comes to being kind, I can only do so much on my own. After a while my own volition is exhausted and I am right back to being snarky and judgmental.
Abraham Lincoln wisely noted that at such times we need to summon “the better angels of our nature.” The “better angels of our nature” are at the bedrock of our being where we are reminded of what is important, what is good, what is right and what is expected of us in the human community.
I believe those “better angels of our nature” teach us gratitude. Like kindness, it is not something we can manufacture on our own; but we can till the ground in which gratitude grows and we can let it inform the stance we assume in the world. Such a stance shifts our perspective from entitlement, hostility, fear, and over attachment to the commodities of modernity to a renewed sense of wonder at what it means to be alive. A stance of gratitude calls us to be present to life in a different way.
Gratitude is called forth when we are silenced by the wonder of sunrise and sunset following one another in a loop of time that brings the seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter- each with its own rhythm and blessing.
Gratitude is nurtured when we open our eyes in the morning and see light and shadow and color and texture. It grows when we are reminded of the wonder of the senses: taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell.
Gratitude is planted when we ponder the number of people who work for just outcomes for injured populations, advocate for those with no voice and speak truth to power. They are our role models and reminders of what it means to live in the human community.
Gratitude is the only response to the wonder that each and every human being on this planet is a unique and unrepeatable human being. Each is beloved by the Holy One.
Gratitude reminds us that time is precious; tomorrow is promised to no one and how we live today matters.
Gratitude is a spiritual practice that helps us balance all that is awful in the world with what is right and beautiful and holy. It builds compassion for others and for the creation in ways that change how we are in the world.
Carrie Newcomer, one of my favorite singer/songwriters says, “I can’t change the world but I can change what is happening three feet around me.” If we all changed what is three feet around us the world would be a very different place. Gratitude teaches us that we are not powerless.
Gratitude also comes with a warning label: causes vulnerability, increased compassion, a desire to change what is three feet around you and an unwillingness to settle for the status quo.
When we are amazed by sunrise and sunset and the movement of the seasons, it is impossible to be indifferent to melting polar ice caps and global climate change.
When we are awakened to see light and shadows in a new way, they become metaphors for human behavior and we can no longer hide in the shadows.
When we are rendered silent by the great miracle and mystery of human life in all its shapes and sizes and colors, it is impossible to hate and our fear is diminished. It also makes me less snarky.
When we realize that many of us have lived more of our lives than we have left to live, what is important in this life shifts; what we have is no longer as important as who we are.
Gratitude is close to the heart of what it means to be human. It calls forth our better angels at a time when the world is desperately in need of kindness.
A Cherokee grandfather was teaching his grandson. He said, “Inside each of us is a fight between two wolves. One is kind, filled with hope, generosity, truth and compassion and the other is filled with anger, greed and arrogance, self-pity and resentment. The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”