Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thankful Thursday

I'm reading an absolutely fantastic book called, How, Then, Shall We Live? by Wayne Muller, the same man who wrote Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Days and A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough - both of which I have read. Great books. Gratitude. Slowing down. Being Grateful. So much wisdom. So many excellent stories of lives transformed by love, grace, simplicity, and rest.

In this book, How, Then, Shall We Live? Muller is exploring four questions that have moved me to think and plan and pray my way through my days in a deeper, more meaningful, more intentional way. Here are the four questions:

1. Who am I?
2. What do I love?
3. How shall I live, knowing I will die?
4. What is my gift to the family of the earth?

In my usual geeky style, I have copied quotes into my journal, expanded on those four questions, and pondered ways in which I can incorporate what I'm reading and learning into my life journey. For today's Thankful Thursday post, I will share a few of my favorite quotes from this book. Between the quotes, I will include my thoughts and responses to the passages and some of what I am grateful for.

We all need some touchstone, some simple act that helps center us into a remembrance of what is already whole and beautiful. This morning I picked some daffodils, early gifts of spring, growing in the warmest places along the south face of the house... The stems are supple and green, fresh from the warm soil of early spring. The cups are the most brilliant yellow, loud, exuberant, unselfconsciously yellow. Beautiful things such as daffodils catch our attention; they fill our eyes and our noses and surprise the body with a delightful, unreasonable glee. When we allow ourselves to slow down and be touched by this singular springtime moment, we glimpse a different perspective on our true nature. For an instant, without even meaning to, we realize that this is prayer. (pages 198-199)

the deep beauty of irises
a bouquet of roses for Mother's Day
the deep red flesh of watermelon
the fresh scent of a recently peeled orange
birds settled on the bird feeder in the backyard
the scent of homemade soy ginger caramel that will be poured over asparagus

Gratefulness slows time. For those close to death, there is little time to waste. When we give thanks for each moment, when we say a silent "thank you" for every meal, every touch, every morning, then we truly feel the richness and breadth of our lives, and things do not go by quite so fast. Last summer I was teaching at the Omega Institute. After a long morning session on Saturday, I was hungry and anxious for lunch. I walked the path from the cabin to the cafeteria with food on my mind. I passed by a lush variety of flowers, trees, and bushes along the path, but I did not really see them. I was thinking only of what I was wanting - lunch - and not at all about what was in front of me. After lunch, properly fed, I walked the same path back to the cabin. I saw the reds and purples and greens, touched the flowers, smelled the August humidity in the air, watched the clouds change shape in the summer sky. I felt tremendous gratitude for such beauty. When I got back to the cabin I realized the walk back had taken no more time than the walk to eat. The walk to eat had felt rushed and stilted; the walk back had felt spacious, restful and easy. The only thing that had changed was my appreciation and gratefulness for what was around me. Gratefulness slows time. (pages 222-223)

How many times have I walked past animals and people, flowers and fields, ponds and lakes, trees and bushes without noticing them? How many times have I not said "thank you" - both audibly and silently? How many mornings have I awakened anxious about the day to come and not grateful that I have yet another day to live? How many meals have I hastily prepared, thoughtlessly eaten, and grudgingly cleaned up after? How much of my life have I walked through asleep? I hope and pray that gratefulness will slow the time in my days more often.

Our meals come from the farmers, the gardeners, the plumbers who brought water, the people who pulled the weeds and turned the compost, those who harvested, the migrant workers, poor children, those who made the boxes to carry the vegetables, those who made the cars that transported the food, the truckers and their families, the grocers, the cooks, the servers - innumerable labors indeed. So many stand silently with us at every meal, and we are indebted to each and every one as we partake of the gift of nourishment. To feel their presence and be thankful for their many gifts to us is to be more accurately aware of our place in this large and generous community of beings... We constantly rely on others for our well-being. Farmers rise at dawn to grow our food, poor immigrant women work in sweatshops to sew our clothing, truckers leave home for days to bring us whatever we need, men and women work in sun and rain and cold to build our homes - these people are offering their labors to us every day, people we never know but who give us their gifts that we may simply live... In all ways and in everything we are immeasurably interdependent; to give thanks for those who serve us is not mere sentimentality - our offering a word of grace is both spiritually accurate and necessary. (pages 226-227)

There are so many people whose hard work made this very moment possible. People I will likely never know or see in this lifetime. The geeks who came up with the idea of the computer and the internet. The designers and engineers, electricians, glass makers. The hands that created the components. The miners who dug out the ore and metals and silver and stones of the jewelry I am wearing. The workers who grew the cotton for my clothing and wove the fabrics and ran the sewing machines. The men, women, and children who worked in sweatshops somewhere along the path of the manufacturing of my clothing and shoes and jewelry and vitamins and supplements and pots and pans and chairs and tables and carpet and cloth napkins. The doctors who have helped keep me alive. The farmers, the supermarket workers. The teachers who taught me to read and write. My mother, who taught me to type. The power company that provides the electricity. The designers, architect, contractors, and many skilled laborers who built this house back in 1988. And my parents and their parents your parents and you - and all the stories that intersected to make this moment, this interaction possible.

How can we not be grateful? How can we not want to bow our heads and weep at the beauty of it all, the impossibility of it all, and the simple wonder of it?

Even as we face death every day - because we could indeed die this very day -
every time we get in our cars and risk having an accident,
every time we take a train and risk a derailment,
every time we take a flight and risk a crash,
every time we enter a building and risk it falling on us,
every time we enter a place of worship, a store, a movie theater, a school, a library, or even while walking down the street, and risk running into a lunatic on a rampage,
every time we eat a meal and risk choking or food poisoning,
every time we do a self-exam of a body part and risk finding a lump,
every time we encounter another human being or animal,
every time a weather phenomenon threatens to destroy our land -
even though things could go wrong and sometimes does go wrong,
in the midst of it all, before it happens, and even after these things happen,
we can, I can, and I choose to find reasons to be grateful.
Uncommonly grateful. Unceasingly grateful. Unreasonably grateful.
There is so much beauty, so much love, so much joy, so much companionship - even in the face of sorrow, death, illness, loss, and suffering.

These things I love - they are the things of ordinary life, miraculous threads that have been woven through the fabric of my days on the earth. These are the seeds I have planted. These are the moments I place on the altar of my life, to guide me home. (page 82)

These things I love are also woven into my life through other people.
Things like my love for travel, for Spain, for Italy, for good books, for foreign movies.
My love for deep and loyal friendship, for long and winding conversations.
My love for yerba mate tea, for espresso, for nutritional yeast, for seedless watermelon.
My love for the library, for thrift stores, for bookstores, for the supermarket.
My love for the old hymns of the church, for prayer, for the Word of God, and for the people of God.
These are seeds planted into the soil of my heart and mind, spirit and life by so many other people.
These miraculous moments are blended into my prayers of gratitude to God for all the goodness and grace, provision and presence, all the joy and all the tears as well.

Quoting a novelist and newspaper reporter named Claudia Slack, Muller writes: "Like knowing you're to be hanged at dawn, [kanswer] concentrates the mind wonderfully." He goes on - When she says that "[kanswer] concentrates the mind wonderfully," the point, of course, is not the [kanswer]; the point is the light the [kanswer] sheds upon our life. If we follow what we love, if we live deeply and attentively in this moment, we will not feel bound by regret at the moment of our death. We will live with reverence for all things and a deep gratefulness for the gift of a single day upon the earth. This our death begs us to live well and with joy. As Jesus told his followers, the message of his life and death was simple: to remind them to be awake and alive. "I have come that you may have life," he told them, "and have it abundantly." (page 159)

We are all dying. Sooner than we would like, I'm certain.
There is no escaping that truth. None of us is getting off of this planet alive.
So what are we going to do before the day, the moment of our departure arrives?
What about living joyfully and gratefully?
What about living attentively and abundantly?
What about getting to know who we are and why we are here?
What about figuring out what gifts we have been given and how we can share them with the world?
How, then, shall we live, knowing that we are indeed going to die?

Pay attention.
This is your life.
How shall you live it?
(page 165)

Acceptance of death is acceptance of freedom.
Freedom to live each day with clarity and courage.
(page 166)

May we all, may we each live with freedom, clarity and courage.
Today, tomorrow, and every day that we have yet to live.
Thanks be to God.

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