It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful. – Jesuit Priest
A few months ago I picked up a lovely book at a local book store called One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where you Are, by Ann Voskamp.
The book is a ‘celebration of grace and a recognition of the power of gratitude’ — Ann doesn’t write about the Hallmark card kind of gratitude, but rather the reaching into your soul kind that rips the blinders off your eyes, cuts into the vein to our pulsing heart beats, pushing us to the front of the line to embrace the one thousand gifts amidst our days.
Days before Jesus was crucified by haters of truth, by the subversive way he lived and taught, Jesus took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to the disciples, saying, “Drink of it, all of you”.
It’s the gratitude she calls Eucharisteo (the Greek meaning of ‘to give thanks’). The root word of Eucharisteo, charis, means grace, it’s derivative chara, means joy.
This kind of gratitude makes the mountains and the hills break forth before you into song, and all the trees of the field clap their hands.
A well of tears choked me as I read the crushing blow of her early childhood when a delivery truck runs over her baby sister in the driveway. The grief followed her through adulthood, staining her days with a harsh, muddy joylessness, until a friend challenged her to notice a thousand gifts around her – to write a list of a thousand things she loves, one thousand blessings. She forsake her “bruised and bloodied ungrateful life”, proceeding to take the dare – and her life changes.
From behind the toil of cleaning toilets, and making far too many bowls of porridge , this home school mother of six begins breathing the beauty all around her, inhaling the poetry that stood before her days, crying out in song, Eucharisteo.
I started to do the same – to make note of one thousand gifts around me–the down pouring of grace I’ve rushed by far too many times, my race horse eyes focused on inconsequential finish lines.
What was the point of racing anyway in this precious short life?
Ah, but now, when my teenager’s almost 6 foot body bends down to kiss me goodnight — I let love’s nectar drip into the veins of my heart, filling it’s temple with his sweetness.
I raise to the heavens his occasional mumbling, ‘thanks for being there for me mom’, bowing down to grace with a “Thank you, God.”
After all, after a string of miscarriages, God sent me an elegant stork carrying in it’s beak the gift of motherhood — a bundle of love with black curls – my first and only child at 40 years old.
Driving him to theater rehearsals the other day rolling down the highway with the windows wide open, we’re rocking to the Oldies. For a moment my buttoned up motherhood flew out the window with San Diego breeze – the nagging, correcting, reminding, To-Do lists, trailing behind on Route 5. Taking a deep, grateful breath, I realize we made it through raging hormones, both his and mine, and hundreds of of hours of tears, rebellion, screams and shouts. And yet, the hours upon hours of love ring most true. Reaching over, I rub his warm, strong hand gently, letting gratefulness stream through his skin.
My husband walks into our bedroom wearing his freshly starched shirt and tie, about to go out the door to the airport to jump on another plane, yet pausing time to deliver me a cup of green tea with vanilla soy milk, with just the right amount of honey, as I like it. No longer do I say my routine, ‘thank you‘. No, I drink his tenderness into my soul like sipping a cup of sweet milk. I sip it slowly so as to savor his tenderness, a tenderness warm and nurturing like the morning light arising from the sleeping horizon.
Walking to the mailbox yesterday afternoon, a small puff of a dandelion floats against the turquoise sky. Dancing in slow motion with the warm California spring breeze, it beckoned me to join in it’s dance. Through the eyes of gratitude, even a common weed reveals it’s beauty before us.
On my beach walk on Saturday, the great, majestic pelican takes flight as the warm April Pacific ocean rolls over my feet, my weight sinking into silky, wet, soft sand.
No I don’t want to miss a thing.
The amazing grace around us only needs our wide-eyed attention, grace that won’t squeeze out joy, but is joy.
The effortless joy that lives beyond our days like the sun behind the clouds.
So lift your eyes from the ground when you walk, scan the land before you for crimson roses, and spider webs laced with dew drops, or tiny children wanting to teach us to play.
One day a while back, a little four-year old boy knocked on our door. He’s a real boy he is, his little thumb hooked on to his blue jean belt loop, hip jolted out to the left, the blond wisp of bang hanging over his right eye. Opening the door he stood there, all tough and grown up, this mini-man.
With his raspy little voice, he said, “Can Simon come out to play”.
(Simon is my husband.)
Jesus says we must be like little children to enter the kingdom.
Little children, wide eyed, teachable, surrendered, grateful for the thousand gifts.
Joy abounds all around us. In our neighborhoods, on buses, trains, at work in school, in our homes, during days of drudgery, and when our steps are light.
So when we’re apt to complain, when we’re blue, we need do it, too. Dress despair in the a velvet robe of gratefulness, and our lives will change.
Darkness cannot live in such light.
If we notice just three gifts and blessings each day, after 365 days we’ll have embraced over one thousand gifts, shimmering gems of life we might have missed, a treasure box filled with joy, a year gone by of happiness infused with thankfulness.
This practice of effervescent gratitude makes everyday a cause for celebration, of bottles of champagne popping throughout our moments.
And thank you Ann Voskamp, you have the heart of a mystic, your beautiful book opened my eyes to the wonder upon me. I now embrace Radical Gratitude as a spiritual practice!
Give thanks in song, when taking part in the meal, in the great assembly, in all circumstances, always and for everything, thanks be to God for such indescribable gifts abounding and surrounding our precious lives.
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