Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Gratitude

A memory has been plaguing me for the last few months of a man standing up in Quaker meeting for worship to speak about his gratitude to God for all the good things in his life.

The man was humble and sincere. He was giving the glory to God.

And yet ...

I was troubled then and continue to be troubled by him, because this man's gratitude was individual and personal. While he was in no way trying to flaunt his good fortune, the whole focus of his gratitude was on himself. He was grateful for all the good things that God rained down on him in particular, all the good blessings that God had favored him with. Again, that's fine. But I couldn't help thinking that perhaps there were people listening who didn't feel quite so blessed. Maybe they were dealing with cancer or a loved one sick or dying or financial problems or divorce. How was this person's message, which, although he did not intend it to, boiled down to "look how lucky I am," help people who didn't feel so graced?

I thought too, of what I heard once--perhaps misheard?--that some Anglicans were upset with the revised 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which is the basis of their worship, because some collective responses were changed from "we" to "I," as in "I believe in..." rather than "We believe in." At the time, I couldn't understand how such a little change could cause such outrage, but now I think I do.

The outraged people, perhaps, recognized that we're not a collection of little "mes" worshipping side by side, but ideally aiming at becoming a "we," a body that transcends the individual self. We are part of something bigger that reaches back in time to tradition, forward in time to leave a better world to posterity and in the present all part of each other What good is my good fortune, if it's not shared with those around me? The world wants us to strive to be those special people who everyone else looks at with envy, to feel separate from and better than the mass of humanity. This can seep into our spiritual lives: We can long to be those people whom everyone looks at and says 'I want want he/she has' spiritually. God had, however, has something much different in mind, which is focus on others. How can I break my bread, so to speak, so that others can share what I have, so that eventually we can each feed 5,000? How can I expand my gratitude so that it encompasses my neighbor?


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I am reminded of what Jesus said, with reference to a man very much like the one you describe: Luke 18:9-14. For what it’s worth!

Bill Samuel said...

Recall the Lord's Prayer which, while often said by individuals, is written entirely in the collective.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Excellent thoughts. Yes, we need to always bring out that truth that we're really all in this together.

Diane said...

Thanks everyone, for the comments!