When I was young I learned to pray in church. There was a specific protocol for prayer: gratitude always came first. Then I was free to do the asking. As a child in a home fraught with strife, praying for God to release me into a life I could claim as my own was something I could hardly wait to do. Repetition couldn’t hurt, as God must have been pretty busy and I wasn’t ever quite sure I was being heard – things at home only reinforced the sentiment, while strife in general escalated rather than calming down. I never did lose faith, however; never ceased communication with the forces of Creation. I held the epithet ask and ye shall receive closer still to my heart. And gobbled up that asking like jellybeans.
If I reflect on the thankfulness part (and I always strove to get the order right, being just that kind of person), I have to admit it slowly magnified in importance. As my independent life blossomed, along came parenthood and a few painful and profound life experiences. All served to deepen my understanding of gratitude. After all, there was much to be grateful for. When I better understood the cyclical nature of things; grasped the nature of ebb and flow – my thankfulness multiplied each time abundance chanced to spill into my lap. I realized it for the gift it was. Perspectives began shifting: that metaphoric Christmas longing to open as many gifts as possible transformed into a genuine love of giving, increasingly preferential to receiving.
I certainly know people who find it hard to express heartfelt gratitude – they are either too beaten down by circumstances or they do it by rote, like memorizing a mantra. Gratefulness can’t be forced – only life and life itself can grant us experiences which pry our hearts open, whether from sheer joy or from wracking loss. If understood for what they are, both stimulate humility – and if one is truly open to the gifts hidden even and perhaps especially in the swamp, it’s easy to realize that all are beneficial. From this understanding emerges profound gratitude. And the funny thing is that attitude of gratitude unlocks all sorts of doorways, until life itself is accepted for the miracle that it is. Nothing’s changed really – just a frame of reference.
[And if you crank up the volume on this link and move your body to the feel of the music, I don’t know how anybody could possibly feel anything but gratitude for life, itself. Peace.]