It is Labor Day Weekend in the U.S.A. It is the official start of American football season for schools, colleges, community leagues, and pro sports. Those who labor, the common workman, are celebrated by… well, stores having back to school sales. This means most of the workers being celebrated will be working. Ironic, huh? It is also the unofficial end of the swimming season as many public swimming pools are closed. Everywhere you look, something is happening. For many, this weekend is the last chance for a vacation and the roadways will be hectic and busy. Everywhere there is action.
In the book “Praying for Strangers”, author River Jordan states: “I can be a woman who prays for strangers but remains completely blind to their bruises.” How many people did you pass today? Now, answer me this: How many people did you really see? With all the sensory overload of our busy lives, we often become indifferent to the people with whom we share the traffic lanes we traverse, those with whom we share space on public transportation, the other diners in our favorite eatery¸ even those who are also standing in line to take advantage of the Labor Day sales.
Very few of us will be able to purchase everything we would like to give to those most important in our lives. What we forget is that by giving of ourselves, we give them the most precious thing – our attention. Writer Kathleen Norris talks about our lives having a liturgy of their own and that each life has a sacred rhythm unique to each of us. Far too often we go through our lives with the mute button pressed down when it comes to hearing the rhythm of those we love and care about.
Too many people go through their daily living with blinders on, not really seeing the person standing next to them. We share common ground and yet act as if we are alone. Prayer allows us to connect with those around us and even when we pray for strangers, pray connects us. Prayer is living, the action of being part of the whole. So does gratitude.
Sometimes prayer takes on a different form than the usual talking to God. It might be the offer of a ride somewhere. It might be organizing a group dinner for those with no family during the holidays. It might be buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line or even just a smile. The thing to remember is that prayer is action. You may be standing or sitting or kneeling perfectly still; yet, the prayer you are saying or thinking is action, powerful action.
Gratitude is much the same way. While this weekend is based upon a holiday designed the give thanks to those workers who make our lives easier and even possible in some instances, most of us will shop, travel, and even eat out without really giving thanks or saying thanks to the workers who make it all possible, the workers for whom this holiday exists.
Prayer saves us from being indifferent to others and thankfulness works much the same way. It creates a web in our lives that unites us with the rest of mankind. Often it is not about the person we are praying for or even the deity to whom we pray. Ultimately prayer benefits most the person who does the praying. True prayer opens our eyes so that we see not only the need but the pain. Pray acknowledges the want without blame or guilt. Prayer gives us a vision and love that it usually ascribed to only God. Showing gratitude helps us recognize that the ordinary things in our lives are really most extraordinary.
Mahatma Gandhi once remarked that “Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.” I would paraphrase him and substitute gratitude for prayer. Gratitude and taking time to show and say a Thank You!” connects us to the people around us. It is a way of caring and sharing life. This entire series during Pentecost is about making the ordinary extraordinary. That might seem like quite a tall order but it really can be as simple as just taking action and saying “Thank you!”