From Gratitude to Community

Diana Butler Bass, in her recent book Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks, says that gratitude is an emotional response to a gift. The emotional response is complex. We may feel grateful because a diagnostic test came back negative. That would elicit great relief, a lowering of anxiety, and a fresh feeling of life at its best.

Or we may feel grateful because someone surprised us on our birthday! Or because a glorious sunset fills us with awe and gratitude for beauty over which we have no control.

My sense of gratitude has become stronger over the years. Reasonable health for my age, good relationships within my circle of family and friends, and life in an incredibly complex creation make a foundation for gratitude every single day.

Suppose we set an intention each morning to be grateful? It is a way of orienting ourselves to pay attention to the people and events that enter our lives. At the end of the day we might reflect on just three new things for which we’re grateful. Jot them down! You’ll quickly have such a long list that just reading it again can be an antidote to those negative emotions we sometimes hold.

How do we turn personal gratitude into a way of life that will change the world? Start small. Express gratitude to people in a way that really shows that you have noticed what they’ve done for you. Ask for the story of their lives and listen with appreciation. It’s the quickest way I can think of to add gratitude to your circle of influence. Based on their stories, you might even dare to ask for advice.

Upset about a social media post? If it’s a friend of yours, what is something you actually like about that person? Can you ground your thoughts in gratitude, then lead your response with a compliment and with curiosity? You might easily see that a conversation on social media is not the best way to resolve differences. Try picking up the phone or inviting a personal video conversation.

Ready to influence a politician or two? Maybe it will help to begin with gratitude for their service even when you disagree with them on many levels.  You can be sure they receive a lot of criticism so you can begin from a different angle. Find an underlying value that you perhaps have in common. State your concern based on that commonality.

I would love to hear from you. How can we use gratitude to change the world?

Retreat, Final Day

I forgot to post this last year! But I trust that it completes my yearning so long ago, pre-pandemic.

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The sun came out and warmed UBarU to slightly above freezing! I was able to take the long path a bit more slowly, and in the opposite direction. I wanted to take pictures of favorite place–a huge tree, a cairn, the windmill and swimming tank, and the cottage where I stayed. [Pictures below]

After my walk I did something for the first time–poached four eggs! I’m sure I must have seen my mother or someone do that once upon a time, but I’ve never owned an egg poacher and never tried to swirl eggs in boiling water to poach them that way.

I did not expect to find a poaching pan in a cabin at a camp, but there it was in the back of the cupboard. I double checked directions on the web to remember how long to cook the eggs–3 or 4 minutes, I learned, over simmering water. They were quite delicious. Different from the scrambled eggs I thought I would cook.

After eggs, I finished the chapter on Silence. That’s a perfect topic to end a silent retreat! I wept over the story of two rabbis who faithfully wrote to each other before every Sabbath. Words are said to be the black fire written upon the white fire of the Torah. But when love felt too deep for words, the two old friends exchanged blank pieces of paper–white fire is even more holy.

Intentional, regular, exchanges with someone can deepen love. They might be letters, or weekly conversations, or perhaps unspoken prayers. Perhaps our words and prayers are the black fire on the white fire of the holy connections we share. With that, I am out of words…

Retreat Day 4, con’t

I experienced a major life distraction between the previous post and this, but here we go.

On my retreat I had been reading Estelle Frankel’s The Wisdom of Not Knowing, and mentioned some things I learned from her. In turn, she cited others from whom she had learned. Two examples:

“If you think that you know God, you know very little; all that you can know are ideas and images of God. I do not know God, nor can I say that I don’t know It. If you understand the meaning of “I neither know nor don’t know,” you understand God.

“Those who realize that God cannot be known, truly know; those that claim they know, know nothing. The ignorant think that God can be grasped by the mind; the wise know It beyond knowledge.”

from The Ten Principal Upanishads,  tr. by Shree Purohit Swami and W. B. Yeats

“It is not possible, except through negation, to achieve even that (limited) apprehension of God which it is in our power to achieve. . . . God cannot be apprehended by the human intellect, and non but He himself can apprehend what He is, and our knowledge (of him) consists in our knowledge that we are unable truly to apprehend Him.

from Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, tr. Shlomo Pines

Silence surrounds us beyond all music, conversation, clamor, or thought.

Knowledge comes not from knowing, but from listening and receiving wisdom.

In my mind, the Great Silence contains God’s Love. Except that God’s Love is not contained but extends infinitely far and immanently near.

How do you imagine God?

 

Retreat Day 4

Mar. 4: Here’s a way to describe God: the limitless wisdom within us.

And what is wisdom? I would include knowledge, truth, insight, experience, and grace. There must be more to it than that, because truth and experience vary widely among individuals, and they vary over time. Over centuries and generations, knowledge grows and develops. It is no longer possible, if it ever was, to learn all that is known. If God is the wisdom within us as a collective, then God must also change as in process theology.

For today, yes, I’ll “define” God as Infinite Wisdom. That would have to include the wisdom of all beings (not just human beings) and all of nature (including rocks, magma, electrons . . . ). And is there knowledge in this chair? Does it know something of the world? That cushion, that cup, that chalice, those prayer beads? We humans give them meaning related to their usefulness to us. Could they teach us something else if we paid close attention?

If any of that is so, and God has infinite capacity to grasp it all, then it is right and natural to praise God. Why ever not?

I took a long walk after writing that. Along the way my mind expanded God’s Infinite Wisdom to include the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of time and space, of wind and storm. These exist either in our minds as constructs or in effect, but they are simply what they are. Nature does what it does because of its nature, not for good or ill.

God is with us through and after storms of every kind because the God I imagine IS all-knowing and all-loving. God desires for us to move millimeters in the direction of knowledge, compassion, and love, but does not mind if we remain stuck. God is too busy loving us to be disappointed in us. We don’t know what we don’t know. Nor are we able to experience everything. Therefore we must rely on others to share through their words, touch, movement, and so forth. Whatever we imagine already exists at some level.

[to be continued, but feel free to comment from your own perspective!]

Retreat Day 3

Mar. 3: This was a transition day from my home-based retreat to UBarU, a camp and retreat center a little west of Kerrville, TX. It is an official International Dark Sky, where professional, amateur, and youth astronomers can learn about astronomy far from city lights.

I rented the Ranch House for a couple of nights, which turned out to be pretty darn cold, with temperatures below freezing (20F). When I made my plans it seemed likely that I would enjoy reading or writing on the porch–but it was too cold and windy to suit me. Thank goodness for heaters and hot chocolate I could make after my walks! Estelle Frankel (The Wisdom of Not Knowing) suggests that we ask a good question every day, such as, “Where is this experience taking me?” Be curious about the unknown.

Already this experience was teaching me how good it is to take a few days of silence and prayer every now and then. It took me into meditation more than once a day, for 25 minutes at a time. I turned the coffee table into an altar graced with a chalice, prayer beads, and a small stone inscribed with “A.S.A.P. / Always Say A Prayer.” The book is Danna Faulds’ Prayers to the Infinite: New Yoga Poems. The heart shape is inscribed with a butterfly. I placed my meditation cushions on the floor next to the altar.

Retreat Day 2

Mar. 2: After a good night’s sleep, I began with a guided meditation on starting the day with happiness. Seven affirmations included this first one, to “plan but remain flexible.” My foot is still hurting a little, and my headache continues to come and go as it has for the past week. Other than that, I have enjoyed tea and breakfast and the quiet of a Saturday morning. A Sudafed helped my head, so I’m still convinced it’s a sinus/allergy problem.

Finished Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart. He teaches that the way to pray without ceasing is to use a simple word or phrase, to use it continually, and to make it encompass all that is. For me at the moment the words are Health and Wholeness, Grace and Peace, prayed rhythmically with my breath. I can pray that for everything and everyone in the cosmos.

Krista Tippett, in her podcast On Being, interviewed Pico Iyer, a travel writer who makes his home in rural Kyoto, “commuting” 5 feet to his desk for 5 hours, then taking a walk, reading for an hour, taking another walk, and spending the evening with his wife. They live in the same 2-room apartment where they also raised two kids.

Every season Mr. Iyer goes to a Buddhist monastery where silence is a way of life. He travels for work, but he sits for insights about all he has seen. I watched his TED Talk on the Art of Stillness. He recommends that each of us devote a few minutes to stillness every day; a few days every season; or even, (as Leonard Cohen did for 5 years at Mt. Baldy Zen Center in California) a few years of your life. Now I’m going out for a walk to empty my head of all those words. They need time to sink in.

Mostly silence or Estelle Frankel this evening.

Retreat Day 1

Mar. 1: Began with a pedicure. That eased my spirit, helped relieve my headache just because I quit getting ready and simply relaxed into retreat mode. Sky blue toenails.

Lunch, eaten mindfully and deliciously.

Did last minute emails that ought not to wait for my return. Set up an automatic notice that I’m on retreat until the 7th. Finally, I made an appointment for a massage on the 8th.

Now to the recliner with a book.

Wrote in my journal, took a short nap, then took a walk while eating an apple. It’s getting quieter in my head.

Started 2 books: The Wisdom of Not Knowing, by Estelle Frankel, and The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen. Wrote a few sentences of reflection.

Frankel: Embracing the unknown/not knowing leads to curiosity and creativity.

Nouwen: Solitude, then silence, then prayer. Working on the silence part.

Epiphany

A favorite class in seminary was World Religions, taught by Dr. Ruben Habito at Perkins School of Theology at SMU in Dallas. He was born and raised in The Philippines and became a Jesuit priest. He was sent to Japan as a missionary and became so interested in Buddhism that he also became a Buddhist monk. I appreciated the opportunity to study with someone who clearly had experience in more than one religious faith, someone who could embrace multiple perspectives and see their contributions to religion.

One morning, Dr. Habito invited the class into a few minutes of silence. Then he opened his hand in front of him and asked us to tell him what we saw:

acornAcorn?

Oak Tree?

Forest?

Nature?

Life?

Several minutes passed. I kept staring at that acorn until sudden realization came to me:

“I see                   …                myself.”

I saw that everything is connected. We are all one with the planet, its elements and atoms, breath and interdependence, formation and destruction, contribution and influence. In that moment of epiphany I saw myself, an integral part of this amazing universe.

He silently handed me the acorn.

 

 

Faith Development

This week I have been focused on a workshop for religious educators on Nov. 3, in Houston.  The title is Faith Development as Spiritual Practice, and it applies not just to educators, but all of us.

I’ve prepared an agenda, collected supplies, and prepared a list of resources. I have written out my part and tomorrow will practice it all out loud to double check timing and ease of speaking.

My summary is this: Feed your soul every day, especially when you think you don’t have time. Make it a habit to let go of tension, worry, and anxiety so that you can rest in the present moment. You will move through the rest of the day feeling centered, grounded, and more at peace with whatever comes your way.

Remember . . . YOU ARE A BLESSING!

        Art by D. Williams, on Creative Commons

On Faith: 5 Questions

TheOnFaith5 provides an online platform for answers to five questions about faith. On their website you’ll find many different perspectives.  I invite you to reflect on these questions along with me because each of us would think of them differently. My next post will consist of one or more of my ever-evolving answers.

Rain Lily, Austin, TX

1) Is religion or spirituality important in your daily life? How?

2) How has your understanding of “God” evolved throughout your life?

3) What do you think of religions other than your own?

4) Can you share a time when your faith helped you understand a significant event in your life?

5) What is your faith in one word or phrase?