“The key word for methodical training of spirituality is gratefulness“ – David Steindl Rast
Every August, in my normally green part of the world, the earth looks tired. Fresh, vibrant, variegated shades of green have been drained into shades of dust. Grass is tired. Trees are tired. Spring and early summer have been wonderful, fruitful, beautiful, but it’s over.
Sadly, I hear the same sentiment again and again these days, with respect to marriages, vocations, our nation’s strength and politic, and yes, even faith itself. There is, it seems, a collective weariness all around us. When anger, fear, and anxiety are added in, we’re looking at a dangerous cocktail! The “dog days” of summer are hounding us at every turn.
This “weariness”, this “loss of vibrancy” though, is utterly different from the vision of faith life articulated in the scriptures. The prophet Isaiah speaks of those who will “run and not be weary…walk and not faint” or the “rivers of living water” which Jesus promises will burst from our souls when we make him the spring from which we quench our deepest thirsts. These sages offer a picture of strength in perpetuity, well into old age. I think of my friend, Major Ian Thomas who, in his nineties, was still opening his Bible with pen in hand, listening, marking, praying, learning. There’s MLK, who’d get up again and again after being beaten, threatened with countless letters of hate mail and verbal curses, jailed, beaten again, and yet again. He’d get back up and press on. Wilberforce, in his determination to end slavery in the British Empire faced similar resistance, less physical but nonetheless relentless. And of course, there’s an anonymous army out there of people who keep showing up, living into that glorious exhortation from Ecclesiastes: whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
This kind of faith longevity never happens by accident, any more than someone just “happens to run a marathon” or “happens to summit Mount Rainier” (“I don’t know how it happened Claudia, we started out for a little walk around the paved path by the parking and lot and decided to just keep going – suddenly we were on the summit enjoying the 80 mile per hour winds, life sucking oxygen deficit from altitude, and severe sunburn”) No, things that are meaningful always require some intentionality.
Yes, it turns out that the life of faith, like all meaningful lives, requires some training. David Steindl Rast explains this (in this favorite book) when he writes, “Genuine spiritual practice will inevitably include training of the body, since after all we are not disembodied beings….Since spirituality is aliveness at all levels, spiritual progress must be measured not only by increasing mental awakeness, but also by bringing the body’s spirited vigor up a few notches. The key word for methodical training in this kind of spirituality is gratefulness.”
He goes on to explain that the word gratitude comes from “gratis”, which means, “what is freely given”. The reality is that, in spite of our trials, in spite of the political upheaval, anger, and uncertainties, in spite of the realities of oppression, racism, terror, and violence, good gifts continue to be poured out on us. Every. Single. Day.
Paying attention to these gifts, or ignoring them, shapes our spirits, and ultimately our outlook on life. As I presently preach through Exodus, I’m reminded of the history God’s people experienced in moving through the wilderness. They had food, freely and miraculously provided. They had water. They had shoes which never wore out during the whole forty year journey. They had guidance, every second it was needed. Gift after gift was theirs.
Instead of joy, though, their journey was a perpetual exercise in complaining: “The food’s no good. The water’s no good. The leadership stinks. We don’t like the leader’s family. Who does this leader think he is, trying to lead us?” It went on like this for forty years, with the cup perpetually empty due to the fact that the whining created so many leaks that the gifts of grace quickly evaporated in their litany of complaints.
It’s in our nature to whine, to feel entitled, to complain that life isn’t aligned perfectly with our desires as seen in this, a favorite clip of mine. This posture of what the apostle Paul calls “grumbling” in this passage, is the natural fruit of not practicing gratitude. Put another way: The means to overcome a posture of whining is always the same: practice gratitude.
It shouldn’t be hard. It just requires paying attention. David Steindl Rast says, “Day and night gifts keep pelting down on us. If we were aware of this, gratefulness would overwhelm us. But we go through life in a daze.
His solution? “Every night I note in a pocket calendar one thing for which I have never before been consciously thankful.”
My solution: #100daysofgratitude as a means of kickstarting the spiritual discipline of giving thanks. We need this now, in this political season, more than we ever have before. So…
JUMP IN… call today (August 3rd) your day 1, or join with me and make it your day 2. Then, every day, post to your instagram or facebook or whatever, a declaration of gratitude along with the hashtag #100daysofgratitude You can then share in the joy of others on the journey by searching that hashtag and finding out that, indeed, the world and much in it, is a gift from God. Don’t sweat skipping a day. Better to fall and get up again than fall and then sit in a pool of self-condemnation.
Disciplines like these are life giving and teach us that every single day there’s a cause for gratitude.
I hope you’ll join me. I know you’ll be richer if you do.