Still Give Thanks
Sometimes things don’t go like we had planned. Maybe the car won’t start so you are late to that meeting. Maybe the store was out of your secret ingredient for your holiday casserole. Maybe you discovered that you thought you had scheduled a blog post only to discover there was a glitch in the system. Maybe the power went off overnight and so your alarm didn’t go off. Maybe you split coffee on your tie right before you walked out of the house. None of these things were really your fault and yet, you are the one who has to make things right. After all, life happens.
Earlier this week we talked about how practice makes perfect; well, Not perfect but nice. The same is true when it comes to basic living. We plan for the successes in life but it is the “oops!” and goofs that really build strength. We seldom practice success; it is its own reward. What we practice are the mistakes either we made or life just threw our way. By practicing, we gradually overcome and learn. We gain strength but also confidence to move ahead in life. We feel we can take on another project, which comes with a new set of challenges. Because they are new, these challenges come with their own set of mistakes. And the process starts all over again. Life happens. When it happens, we still need to give thanks.
As adults, we tend to overlook that learning process, the series of one step forward and two steps backwards that we all make. The designation for this series , the way I am organizing these particular posts is Pentecost because I began them on Pentecost Sunday, the fiftieth day after the first Sunday following the First full moon after the vernal spring equinox. most commonly known as Easter. Pentecost was for the early believers a time of practicing what had been preached. It still is a time of practicing and also learning. For the nonspiritual among us it is a time of reflection. Summer is the big thing during Pentecost. It affords us time to enjoy life and to be reflecting on what was and looking ahead to what will be. It is a time to reflect on one’s spirituality, the good and the bad, and how to improve. It is also the perfect time to give thanks.
My emphasis during Pentecost, known as the Ordinary Time because no major holidays or religious feast days fall during it, was to explore ways we could make the ordinary hum drum of life something more, something extraordinary. Life is not about standing still. For the past ten days or so we have explored being grateful, practicing the “Thank You!” we need to give in our lives. There are those days, however, whenever it would seem that we have nothing for which to give thanks.
Late last year I took a class on spiritual practices. I freely admit I signed up for it because I was writing a series on prayer. I thought it would be a great reference and the timeliness of the class offering made it a perfect fit. I was certain such a class had to include praying. I was wrong. Life happens. The class focused on the spirituality within each of us as we go about our daily livings. It was less on the “churchy” things we tend to tack on to such things as prayer and more about the mundane everyday things we all have to do … or should do. Instead of hearing someone talk about how to pray I heard about washing the dishes. Was this an “Oops!” moment?
Trying to define prayer is both very easy and intrinsically complex. The word spiritual is equally difficult to define. If you remember, after presenting you with all the complex definitions of prayer, I summarized it down to one word – conversation. I am certain each of us defines “spiritual” in our own way and we could go through a host of definitions. For many people, it is synonymous with being religious but for others, it is a distinct and different approach to life than being religious. For me, a spiritual life is a connected life. I define spiritual as just that – connected.
The “Everyday Spiritual Practices” class I took was a great class but it did not discuss praying. What it did discuss was being connected to our living, being present in the moment. Coaches tell athletes that they need to be “present in the moment.” What they are really saying is forget about that last pass you didn’t catch, the goal you didn’t make; live the play at hand. It is great advice…in the moment. Tomorrow, though, after the game is over, that same coach will spend all day going over the game and showing the players where they made their mistake. That coach will point out where the player was supposed to turn so that he could have caught the ball or how distraction from a guard threw the passer off a bit so that a ball caught and then thrown was too far to the right to hit the basket. Today they need to live in the moment to win the game but tomorrow they will live in the past to prepare for the future.
Such a habit of living and learning is great for sports but it doesn’t do much for our spiritual life and yes, even atheists have a spiritual life. We all have a soul, a spirit within us. We all exist and by existing, we are connected to other things and people. Even the homeless are connected, maybe not to a structural house but to their own favorite place to sleep on the ground, their comfortable blanket or hat.
For many people, prayer is a time of reflection and supplication, of reviewing like that coach the day after the game. It can also be a time of asking for help or understanding. Life can be very confusing and confounding. Prayer is one way many people seek to find solace for their spirit or soul. So is gratitude.
Spirituality is a very popular word these days, very trendy and often said in all the right places. Bah humbug! True spirituality is something that is felt and lived with very little talking involved. For some, spirituality is a term they use to avoid in-depth retrospection. For others, it is a curse to be avoided and for still some, it is a way to avoid the unpleasant truths about ourselves.
We all have what St Augustine called “ordo amoris”, an ordering our loves. In other words, we have things we love and place a priority on those things. We also place a priority on the everyday mundane tasks that life requires; washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping the car in working order and filled with gas. Few of us love doing those mundane tasks but they allow us to live and do what we do love or need to do. Can these things possible be spiritual? Are they a part of our prayer life?
Who are you? What would you be without your personal “ordo amoris”? When a terrorist attacks occurs, the fabric of many lives are ripped apart. People doing rather mundane tasks suddenly become victims in a matter of moments as a destructive spirituality tore hundreds of lives apart. The same thing happened a little over a week ago in Louisiana as flood waters overtook the city of Baton Rouge. Two days ago the quaint historic town of Amarice, Italy was hosting a thousand visitors who walked the beautiful streets and laughed. Today rescue and recovery efforts continue after a devastating earthquake. How quickly these lives were torn and dramatically changed forever. How quickly we felt their pain and the fear it created in our own lives.
None of us are born with a warranty tag attached under our arms or on the back of our necks. Life happens. The importance of prayer, that conversation we have with our faith as we live, keeps us sane and emphasizes our being connected. Our spirituality, that which connects us to our universe and life, tells us we are alive. Life happens and so, we need to live it and be grateful for it. Life is scary and exhilarating. It needs reflection and preparation. It demands we are present in the moment and that includes being grateful.
Life happens. I hope today you take a moment to give thanks for what you have. It may not be much but when it is taken from you, it will seem like a great treasure was lost. We are all precious as is each life. Today share a smile, a hug, and yes, even a tear. Be glad in your moments and give thanks, please.