Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” At this time of year, from my home and office in Woodland, California, it is easy for me to remember prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude. The grace and beauty of the fall harvest, blazing crimson, orange, and yellow leaves, the orange glow of ripening persimmons, the sweet-tart burst of flavor from a pomegranate, and glorious fall sunsets fill me with appreciation and gratitude. In these moments I feel free from the desire drama of my needs and the demands for more. In these moments I feel the abundance of life and “thank you” is easy. Giving is natural.
In the Pacific Western Region we are so blessed with seasons of diverse beauty and abundance year round. We have much to be thankful for. I am grateful for these moments of easy thanksgiving because they ease me into the spiritual discipline of cultivating gratitude. The memory of these moments of grace and awe sustain me in the incredibly hard work of cultivating gratitude regardless of what comes my way. Practicing gratitude when times are tough, when life deals a blow, when our hearts are broken from loss or the uncertainty of life, can require discipline. The spiritual discipline of cultivating gratitude can be essential for navigating the difficult times.
Like any spiritual practice, cultivating gratitude, requires commitment. It requires commitment to set aside the time for practice, surrendering to allow the practice to touch our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies, and the openness for the experience to come as it comes.
I have come to anticipate the return of the Northern Flickers that enjoy the persimmon harvest too. Their splendid coat-feathers of dappled gray lined in electric golden-yellow, and black-spotted white breast-vests take my breath away. I begin watching for the Flickers in late October. Days pass, no sign of them.
If I let the anticipation, or the disappointment, that the Flickers have not returned fill my experience I am in danger of closing to the sun turning ordinary persimmons to globes of orange light and skies to fiery crimson and amethyst. Closed, I may miss the Flickers’ call altogether.
Another benefit of cultivating gratitude is the shift toward stewardship, generosity, and caring for others. Many faith traditions, including ours, teach us to care for the most vulnerable; children, widows, the sick and impoverished. Yet, in America, 45 million - one in six people - live below the poverty line. This, in a country of abundance is heartbreaking and even shameful. Every second child in the world lives in poverty.
I am reminded of the story about a small Unitarian Universalist church in the Philippines. People have very little. Each person scoops a handful of rice from his or her own supply of rice to put in the collection. The collected rice is sold. The money from the sale of the rice supports the congregation’s ministries and those in need.
May we, you and I, take the time in this season of thanksgiving to feel our abundant blessings. May we cultivate gratitude and share a handful from the abundance that we have been given. May our prayers of thanksgiving inspire acts of stewardship and generosity as we care for the most vulnerable. May it be so, as only we can make it so, Amen.
P.S. The Flickers returned today!