Connection to Gratitude
“At the heart of virtue is knowledge of the good.” This quote is from Timothy Sedgwick, Academic Dean for Academic Affairs and Vice President and the Clinton S. Quin Professor of Christian Ethics at Virginia Theological Seminary. Actually Dr. Sedgwick is best known as an Episcopal ethicist, a fact of being that surprises many being. Not that I mean he should not be known for his standing but that we have such things as ethicists and that they exist within a denomination.
Try as I do to keep this blog open for all religions and spiritualities, at some point we must admit to our commonality and the search for that which is good. To deny such would be, in my humble opinion, denying the existence of life itself.
Life is lived in relationship to others. No matter who you are, what you have, your profession, your status or lack thereof…All life is lived in relationship to others – people, places, things, and the whole of creation. This is a concept also posited in Sedgwick’s book “The Christian Moral Life”. One of the more interesting things he discusses, however, is not in the text of the book but in the very first footnote: “The narrative understanding of ethics as a matter of setting, character, and plot has its origins in Aristotle’s “Poems”.
Your life is a narrative, a series of events and your reaction to them. At each moment in our living, we ask and answer the questions “What do I do?” “What will I purchase?” “Where will I go?” One question leads to another and the way in which we answer them becomes the narrative of our lives. Our answers to those and other questions signify that life is painful and has recovery. Why would this be important? It is important because such is true for all of us – Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Still-Deciding, Refuse-to-Decide, Spiritualist, etc., etc., etc. If indeed life is lived in relationship to others, then there will be pain, disappointment, unpleasantness, and even betrayal. There should also be gratitude.
We have, in these past several days discussed gratitude and how being thankful can cultivate a better life for those we encounter and for ourselves. In essence, we have planted a garden, a garden of self and a garden of gratitude. Every garden has its pests. Some arrive blown by the wind but others are intentional visitors. They plunder the young bulbs out of the earth and disrupt the fragile seeds. They expose what needs to stay buried and eat what can then never become part of our harvest. Even the weather can invade our ideal setting of the garden.
Life is much the same. There are those people who seem to want only to destroy our tranquil souls and there are always the unexpected life events that, much like a sudden storm, can turn our lives upside down in an instant. Taking a few moments for the fine art of gratitude, connecting to those things for which we are thankful, can help us weather whatever life throws at us, whatever so-called “pests” happen to come our way.
It is how we connect to these people and events that determines our own narrative, our own life story. How we connect to our living determines who we are, what self we have planted and nurtured in our being. Loss can lead to greater understanding and appreciation if we allow ourselves to learn and grow from it. In his book “The Moral Christian Life”, Sedgwick describes something he calls the Covenant of Hospitality.
‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” There are many variations of this saying which appears in Hebrews Chapter 13, verse 2. It is sage wisdom and the very definition of who we are. How we treat and connect to those who can seemingly do nothing for us speaks volumes as to whom we are as beings.
The connections we make in our life are a mirror of our souls. I am not just talking about the people we know or the charities we may support. I am talking about the connections we have to our pets, our material possessions, and yes, even our dreams. Herman Melville wrote about such connections. “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
John Lennon explained it a little differently. “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” When we connect with the world and everything in it for positive results, then we are truly living the best self and life we can offer. Lennon wrote: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Someday I hope you’ll join us…and the world will live as one.” We need not only to dream but to give thanks. It will not only help illuminate our own narrative of life, it can change that of a neighbor or fellow treaveler.