“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1943-45)
Life has become rich for us Brothers at SSJE. We are mindful, more than ever now, of how much we have received from our supporters and benefactors and, by your hands, from God, who has inspired your generosity to us. In particular we are grateful for:
Our renovated Monastery. It was only a few years ago that we were wondering if we would be able to stay in this beautiful Monastery, which was desperately in need of costly renovations. The generosity of our Friends and benefactors (including so many members of the Fellowship of Saint John) has enabled us to remain in this sacred place, so ideally situated for the type of ministry we do and so hallowed by the prayers of many Brothers and countless guests and visitors over the years.
Our employees and volunteers. We simply could not provide the ministry we do without the help of our very creative and dedicated staff, and scores of others who advise us or contribute in other ways to our life and work. We are acutely aware of being part of the Body of Christ, with its many parts all working together.
Our postulants and interns. In our Rule of Life we say, “New members bring with them the promise of new life for our brotherhood.” New life has come to us in the persons of our five interns this year and in the four new men who have entered the Community since January. They have enriched our common life by their energy, enthusiasm, and good cheer, and by the many gifts they bring.
Yes, life has become rich for us Brothers at SSJE. Our hearts are overflowing with gratitude. As Christians we try to express our gratitude to God primarily in two ways: in our worship and in loving service. Worship is the foundation of our common life. We gather in the Chapel several times each day to offer our praise and thanksgiving and to pray for the needs of the Church and the world. We also celebrate the Holy Eucharist – that “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” which the Book of Common Prayer reminds us is “the principal act of Christian worship” – six days a week. “Eucharist” means “to give thanks.” The chief end of our worship, then, is to express our gratitude to God – in words and in music and in movement.
Gratitude is also the reason for a life of service. With the Psalmist we ask, “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” This is our answer: Let me serve God by serving others; let me give what I have received.
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk of the last century, once wrote:
“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace ….
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to the praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference …. We live in constant dependence upon this merciful kindness of the Father and thus our whole life is a life of gratitude – a constant response to His help which comes to us at every moment.”
“Our whole life is a life of gratitude,” said Merton. If this is true, how can we cultivate a spirit of gratitude? Here are some suggestions:
• By deepening our awareness of the beauty and grace already present in our daily lives.
• By noticing acts of kindness and compassion.
• By leaving judgment to God.
• By keeping alive our sense of wonder at the world and its inhabitants.
• By looking for signs of God’s presence and activity in our own lives and in the lives of others.
• By recalling what we owe others.
• By listening, watching, expectantly.
• By praying the “General Thanksgiving” every day (Book of Common Prayer, p.101).
There are many paths that lead to gratitude, and to God.
I came across a story recently about a woman Zen master named Sono who taught one very simple method of enlightenment. She advised everyone who came to her to adopt an affirmation to be said many times a day, under all conditions. The affirmation was, “Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.”
According to the story, many people from all arenas of life came to Sono for healing. Some were in physical pain, others were emotionally distraught, others had financial troubles, some were seeking the liberation of their souls. No matter what their distress or what question they asked her, her response was always the same: “Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.” Some people went away disappointed, others grew angry, others tried to argue with her. Yet some people took her suggestion to heart and began to practice it. Tradition tells us that everyone who practiced Sono’s mantra found peace and healing. (The story comes from an essay by Alan Cohen.)
Sono knew the way to profound peace and joy was through gratitude. Hers is a practice you might adopt for a day, for a week or for a lifetime. Notice the changes that come as we become aware of gratitude, the realization that we have been given a gift. Truly, life becomes rich.