October 9, 2016
“It’s Good for You!”
Every morning, I get an email from gratefulness.org with a quote about living gratefully. One of my favorite spiritual practices is taking time to sort through my day and name what I am grateful for in that moment. There are several things that occur over and over – my family, my pets, something from nature, my work – but the good challenge for me is not to be sweeping and lazy. I can always say I am grateful for Anne Marie, but what if I got a little more specific? What is it about Anne Marie that I am grateful for right now in this moment? Suddenly thousands of possibilities open up and gratitude is a never ending list of beautiful moments.
One of the great gifts my grandmother gave me was teaching me to write thank you notes. She believed that certain things were really important and it was her job to teach me those things. I adored my grandmother. If she said it, it must be true. When I was about 9, she gave me a box of thank you cards and a box of birthday cards. She typed a list of the birthdays of everyone in our family including great aunts and uncles that I barely knew. She gave me a bunch of stamps and explained that my job was to remember to thank people (she meant a handwritten note) and remember their birthday.
Today, if you ask me what my favorite holiday is, I will tell you it is whoever is having a birthday on any given day. I LOVE birthdays! Remembering birthdays has been a way for me to honor people. Today is my son’s 18th birthday and I think I am more excited about it than he is! Writing thank you notes has been a spiritual practice for me as long as I can remember. My grandmother taught me that it isn’t enough to feel gratitude; I need to express it. She was right. One year during the season of Lent, I wrote a thank you note each day to someone who had impacted me. It changes me to express my gratitude. It makes me feel more whole, more connected.
I really believe that it changes us to say thank you, but we may not be the only ones changed by the experience. About a year ago, the church received a note with a check from someone who had recently moved here from across the country. I responded with a thank you note and soon received a call. I went to visit the couple that had sent the check. They lived in a very sparse apartment. The thing that struck me wasn’t as much the lack of possessions as the bare walls. The only thing on the wall was the thank you note I had written them. They were clearly struggling financially, but chose to contribute to a church they had never even seen.
Luke tells of ten lepers who called out to Jesus one day. Leprosy wasn’t just a disease, it meant being ostracized from society. People with leprosy weren’t allowed to interact with other people. They had to live apart from the community and announce their presence by shouting “Unclean!” as they approached anyone. They called out to Jesus who healed them and then he sent them to the priest to complete the healing. It was the priest not the physician who pronounced lepers cured. When the priest declared that they were indeed cured, they were restored to the community. Leprosy is a terrible disease, but being coupled with complete isolation made it unbearable. Jesus comes along and casually heals ten people and then sends them to the priest who will give them the stamp of approval. They go on their way when one of them overcome with what has just taken place turns around and runs back to Jesus to say thank you. It’s not an understated thank you. He shouts praises to God and throws himself at Jesus’ feet to say thank you with his whole being.
This makes Jesus curious. “Weren’t ten of you healed? What happened to the other nine?” There have been many theories about what happened to the other nine. You can probably guess some of them: one waited to see if the cure was real, one forgot, one said he would have gotten well anyway, one raced home to see his family, and one said he would see Jesus later.
We can spend a lot of time speculating why they didn’t come back and say thank you, but we probably have our own guesses about that. How many times have we intended to say thank you and just didn’t get around to it? The one that fascinates me is the one who did come back. He so overcome with gratitude that he raced back and threw his whole body at Jesus’ feet to say thank you! I love that guy! That’s the one I want to be.
If Jesus doesn’t motivate you to say thank you, you should know that it’s actually cool to be grateful! There are tons of books on the subject. There are TED talks on gratitude. There’s even a science of gratitude. Who knew? Studies are showing the many benefits of gratitude – it makes us happier, healthier, more likable, better able to sleep, more likely to live longer, reduces materialism, boosts energy levels, improves relationships, increases productivity, helps us relax among MANY other benefits. So now we know that it’s not just a good thing to do, it’s good for us. (http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/)
Faith communities have known about gratitude for generations. This is not new information to us, but now the cat is out of the bag and there are hundreds of books on the subject.
The Psalm you just heard is also a song of gratitude and praise. The psalmist remembers the hard times of the Exodus and the burden of oppression, but the reading ends with the words “yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.” I love that phrase! I imagine coming through everything into a wide meadow and being so keenly aware of God’s presence and so full of gratitude that they begin to sing.
Gratitude is about remembering. It’s about finding a way to express what might seem obvious. It is finding freedom in the gifts that surround us each day. It changes us and it changes the world around us. As the election nears and we experience the tensions we face in our country, perhaps gratitude can be one path to healing some of our divisions. Perhaps gratitude will ultimately make us whole. In the midst of conflicting feelings and experiences, may gratitude be one of the threads that binds us together.
I want to invite you practice gratitude this week. I encourage you to allow everything to surface – your favorite kind of tea, a hard lesson learned, a song that fills you up, the people who accompany you on the journey, your favorite pair of shoes, a gift that emerged from a painful time, anything and everything. Allow your gratitude to sweep over you. Is there some form of expression being asked of you? Is there someone you need to thank? If so, I have put thank you notes in the narthex. Please take one and send it this week as a tangible expression of your gratitude. It isn’t quite as dramatic as shouting and falling at Jesus’ feet, but I think it makes a difference.
Thirteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you, that would be enough.” I think he’s right.
At the end of the story, Jesus tells the man that his faith has made him well. It may be that he’s telling him that Jesus provided the physical healing and the man’s gratitude completes the circle to make him whole. Could it be that if we steep our days in gratitude, we will find ourselves whole?
It is fair to ask, what does gratitude look like in the face of 10,000 refugees fleeing Libya this week? How do we feel gratitude as we witness the destruction of Hurricane Matthew? Are we supposed to express gratitude as the New Mexico House passes death penalty legislation?
The Psalm and the story of the lepers are about gratitude in the face of horror. Gratitude doesn’t mean all is perfect. But if we can sustain a grateful heart toward a God who is with us in all things, we are better equipped to navigate the pain and suffering in our world today. Today, we experience the full circle of life as we celebrate the baptism of Lorenzo and the life of Gerri. There is an invitation here to be grateful at life’s beginning and end. Start where you are…what are you grateful for in this moment? Now can you live that gratitude all day? Can you end today grateful? Can you begin tomorrow grateful for the gift of another day? You don’t have to ace the gratitude test. Just be grateful now. Then be grateful some more and see what happens.