Gratitude, Attention, Prayer

“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given; gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us…Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living participating human being is a privilege, that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, and the colour blue…”

     Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to consider the notion of gratitude not just for a full table and stomach, but for the broader array of reality – for the likes of “real faces, real voices, laughter, and the colour blue.” What poet David Whyte proposes in the above quote is that true gratitude is an instinct that emerges when we pay attention to the miracle of life incarnate in people, colours, and even pain. We are part of something, not nothing. Our lives, in all their particularity, matter. It is, as Whyte claims, a privilege to be a human being in a living world.

     The key that unlocks gratitude for life is attention. We so often sleepwalk through our days, missing the mystery manifested in the people and things and experiences that, like puzzle pieces, make our lives whole and complete. Without attention we skim the surface of life. Without attention we tend to embrace only what we like, enjoy, and appreciate. But by paying attention, the door to gratitude for all of life and, therefore, to a richer life, opens wide.

     French mystic and philosopher Simon Weil has opined that prayer is unmixed attention. When we are fully present to what/whom is before us, and when we are grateful (fully accepting) for whatever/whomever that happens to be, we are in the presence of God understood as the spiritual essence of life.

     We need not rise above the secular to experience the sacred. We need not ascend to the heavens to encounter the holy – the Ultimate and Infinite is intimate “within and without us,” waiting to be experienced through our grateful attentiveness.

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