“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us–and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”
This is an interesting reflection from the famed Catholic mystic, Thomas Merton. It would look good chopped up and put on a poster, or, in these times, broken into 140 character pieces and tweeted to the world as part of one’s identity.
But it is a bit harder actually to live with this sort of gratitude. If, at night’s end, I go through my yesterday, for instance, here is how I would tell it:
Today, I woke up and had a shower. Then a bite to eat and out the door for work. I spent the morning speaking with others and responding to emails. Then lunch at a Mexican eatery, and back to work. Around 5 pm, it was off home to see my wife and have dinner. We watched “Wheel of Fortune” together then ventured off to a basketball game. Then it was home to bed. It was a day like many before it.
That would be my summary. I may even call the day mundane at worst; at best, totally commonplace. It was a day like many before it.
But what if I took the Merton quote to heart?
First of all, the fact that we have any days at all is remarkable. Consistently the sun rises. We can predict its arrival to the minute, day after day, for thousands of years it has been this way. How blessed is even that? Were I in charge of the sun, how many days would I consistently grant it? How many before I pushed it back a few hours or made the sun blue, without giving thought to the myriad chaotic consequences of such haphazard action? I woke up because the sun came up–what a daily overlooked blessing!
But what else is there in my ho-hum Tuesday? Well, to keep things quick, let us rattle them off shorthand:
-I woke up! I have been given life! I am alive! I live and breathe and move! Of all the things created, I am among them, and, something we don’t think about, how easily would it have been not to be created at all. Think of all the things that are never made, like the very things left off my own to-do list, how easily I could have been left off the cosmic list? But I was not. I know this because I woke up! I breathed breath, filling my lungs with sweet life, air freely granted to an undeserving being. I’m alive!
-I had a shower! I live in an age of cleanliness! Of hot–piping hot–showers even! But aside from the modern luxury, I live in a place with water! How many other places in this wide growing galaxy can boast such a precious thing as that! My life is not a waking up only to thirst to death; no, I can drink deeply just as others have since the dawn of time because we have been given water. It cleans us, it fills us, it keeps us alive. We have fountains naturally given and those manufactured and stuck into walls; and of these, I drink! Water! Sweet forgotten substance!
-Then a bite to eat! Much like water, nourishment is available. For whatever reason food is present and I have not starved–I know this because I woke up! I eat food. I eat it pretty much whenever I need it and live in a place that yields more of it–it shoots up from the very earth and bounds among the woods. I’ve been given food to allow me to continue breathing air I’ve been given and live this life I’ve been given. I’ve been given a bite to eat!
-Out the door for work! Work? Work! What’s this! All these basics and then purpose too! I’ve been given a mind that allows for thought beyond, “RUN” and “DON’T GET EATEN!” My thoughts allow me to benefit society in a way that yields a daily reward in the form of payment. I can work! I can think! I can serve! There is a point to my life that stretches beyond the breathing and drinking and eating. Those things allow me to do other things. There is a point! I have work! I have purpose; it has been given to me!
-Spent the morning speaking with others and responding to emails! There are others! It isn’t just me, alone here in this place, eating and drinking and breathing! There are others! I have community and relationship and camaraderie. Friendship! Sweet friendships, how does this make sense? What could I have possibly done to deserve feeling the warmth that comes from a hug or sharing soul-brimming laughter with another? There are others in this place with me, and we are together! They’ve been given to me, and I to them. There are others!
-Lunch at a Mexican eatery! Not just food but types of food! Spicy and hot and sweet and sour and tangy and crisp and on and on! Not only does the food keep us alive, but it blesses our sensations. It connects us to memories–Mom’s cookies or those Thanksgiving Day rolls. It fills our stomachs but also our souls. Why have we been given this delicacy? Does not all food fill the same purpose, and would not bland food do just as well as delicious foodstuffs? But yet there is flavor. I have a favorite kind even! So we are given the basics, and then, for good measures, we are given this abundance of blessing beyond. Oh, how numerous are the nuance wonders of each day!
-It was off home! I have a home! A place that is for me! A place to lay my head! A refuge from the wind and the rain and the lurking things beyond! How wonderful is this? And most people have this–in some way shape or form. And many that don’t can get it through the help of others! Homes. The abstract idea of a belonging somewhere is fantastic in and of itself, but add to it all the tangible wonders of it–especially on a chilly November eve–and, well, there just aren’t words beyond “Home, Sweet Home” and “Thank God.”
-To see my wife. A person that belongs to me and I to her! To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, come what may! I don’t breathe and drink and eat and have purpose alone. In my best times and my worst times, there is someone with me, a constant companion. With me . . . ME! How can this be? We hold hands. We kiss. Tingles . . . what are these? Like sunrises in the heart, why, oh why, would any God add tingly affection to His world? Good is one thing, but that good? Wow.
-We watched “Wheel of Fortune” together then ventured off to a basketball game! What more can this life offer? A mind that yearns for puzzles to solve; tongues, a dance floor for tapping words. We can think and reason and solve. And we can find beauty in artwork or in nature or in drawing the help defender and dishing a no-look pass for an easy bucket! Why are we wired to enjoy? And why are these enjoyments diverse among us combining to etch the pattern of our collective existence in individual brushstrokes? To enjoy myself? To relax? How does one such as me warrant such tender mercies as these?
-Then it was home to bed! The world I’ve been given has soft things! At night, I lay my head upon a pillow, my body on a cloud. And then, I sleep. I restore the energy; I blanket myself in rest. How was all this reasoned for me? Had I designed my own existence the list of things I’d neglect to create would be unending–foremost on said list? Sleep. I’d pack a 24 hour day 24 hours full, and the weariness would end me. But I was given fatigue and then awarded a method for dealing with it; I was given sweet sleep, tucked in each night since my birth by the very giver of slumber.
-It was a day like many before it! And thank God for that!
Today, I woke up breathing air in bed beside my wife, surrounded on every side by gifts of love.