Gratefulness is the great task, the how of our Spiritual work because rightly understood it re-roots us.
~ Brother David Steindl-Rast*
Through the years, I began to see a larger, smarter, and more enlightened hand than mine was helping which left me feeling cared for even in the smallest of incidences. Lately, I've taken note of how many times I say a heartfelt thank you to an invisible someone or something for the little things which are no longer dismissed. And the more gratitude I feel, the more the incidences seem to multiply and now are too numerous to be relegated to mere coincidence or a random act.
This developing feeling of gratitude is different. It has a life and aliveness to it. I cannot personally relate to a coincidence or consider some mishap as being saved by a bell. Often pulling into a full parking lot I put up a little request for a space near the store. And like magic, there it is. I might be mildly thankful for my good luck but that is not the gratitude Steindl-Rast is referring to.
In addition, too often in the past, I have also dismissed wisdom, instinct, and insight as these too remained more object than subject and thus, none personal. I wouldn't say thank you to an instinct even if it helped me avoid an accident. Yet, I know these three concepts are larger than mere human logic.
So what is missing? The answer -- Relationship. Thank you has a You to it -- an acknowledgment of a relating life force behind everything which has a larger intelligence than the human brain possesses. Yet, this You is personal and is caring in an, "I love you kind of way." A dear friend of mine was telling me the other day that she was standing up on a step ladder in her entrance, lost her balance, fell, and somehow landed perfectly seat-down in a chair a couple of feet away -- that had only been put there the day before for her to catch some sunlight while reading.
Yes, she could have dismissed it as a coincidence or concluded she had been saved by the bell/chair. However, she didn't. I also knew if she had landed on the hardwood floor it could have been serious as bones break easily. I don't know what she would call it but when she was telling me about it excitedly, her eyes were alight, and her thankfulness was catching. She knew she was saved by a larger hand than hers and exuded gratitude with its sweetness, caring, and its presence. This is the thank you with a You, felt to the bone and beyond.
This is the gratitude that Steindl-Rast refers to as "the how of our Spiritual work" rightly understood does re-root us. It comes out of our eyes, our fingertips, causing us to bow our heads and raise our hands to the sky. The other night I was watching TV. It was desert-night cold and I was warm and cozy on the sofa. The last thing I wanted to do was go out and stand in the darkness. Yet, gear up I did. The night sky was a crystal, star-glittering magnificence. No painting ever sold at Sotheby's for millions could match its beauty and there standing, looking up, it was mine or better said, I was its. With chest swelling and eyes singing, I shouted quietly, "Thank You."
To what? Some call the You, God, Jesus, or Mohammed. For others, it may be Spirit, mother earth, Gaia, or the universe. Herein lie relationship and Presence -- what we personally feel and are loved by. Without a You, without the larger than human self, I miss out on reality and a relating beyond my comprehension -- where everything waits for us to look out, look within, and walk in this awareness.
"What does gratitude mean to you?" I asked a wise woman last week who also exudes thankfulness for the rainbow she can see in a drop of water, glistening in the sun. She paused, then whispered, "Gratitude is like breathing in and breathing out. It is very large. I feel its loveliness, Ah, it is quiet. Yes, all is done. The universe is smiling back. Now, everything is beautiful."
* Brother David Steindl-Rast is a benedictine monk, author, and lecturer. Some years ago I was privileged to spend an afternoon with him and six or seven others which created a wonderful opportunity for personal interaction. I will never forget him.