Saturday, April 23, 2016

From My Nature Journal: How’s Your GQ, Your Gratitude Quotient? Gratitude as an Upward Spiral…

I read this morning of something an author calls the ‘spiral’ of gratitude. Upon further thinking, it’s a phrase I find I like very much.

Of course, when we tend to think of spirals, if we’re not thinking footballs we’re first thinking of the downward variety, gravitational force being what it is and all; we quickly picture the proverbial circular descent that leads to a crash as object meets earth. I’m not sure why this is so, why we first think of the downward spiral, except that gravity at first glance seems to have a much greater hand in our daily lives than does lift. But that’s only at first glance, because absolutely every single time we move we are exerting an antigravity force. It’s probably also because most people tend first to think the worst…

Contrarily, it’s the upward spiral I want to think about. No, not the first half of a Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ‘hail Mary’ pass. Though we have fairly few examples of such in the realm of nature (again, gravitational force being what it is and all), we do have at least one. Picture the soaring red-tailed hawk, rising slowly but persistently on the thermal. It’s an almost spiritual image, and maybe can help lift the concept of gratitude as an upward spiral to a spiritual place.

How grateful am I? Are you? Such a thing surely cannot be measured, as if there’s some kind of gratitude quotient, but it’s something worth thinking about. Maybe there should be. And though it can’t be measured, I do believe there’s a gratitude intelligence just as surely as there’s an intellectual, relational and emotional intelligence. In fact, I believe gratitude intelligence most certainly must contribute to the other three, and to any other kind of intelligence for that matter. Lacking the former, I shudder to think what kind of world this might be.

Some have spoken of the sharing of thanks as the important completion of a circle. It’s a tolerable image, but doesn’t that seem kind of closed to you, a circle? It does to me. It’s significant, to be sure, especially between the two parties. But what of a possible larger grace? What of a broader sense of shalom that might go beyond what only two parties may share? What about the potential for something we might even see as a cosmic joy that can rise to a greater Reality?

My devotional writer this morning said that, when seen this way, the exchange is more like a spiral than a circle, a spiral in which the giver gets thanked and so becomes the receiver, and the joy of giving and receiving rises higher and higher. Another contemplative theologian puts it this way:
A mother bends down to her child in the crib and hands him a toy. The baby recognizes the gift and returns the mother’s smile. The mother, overjoyed with the childish gesture of gratitude, lifts the child up with a kiss. There is a spiral of joy. Is not a kiss a greater gift than a toy? Is not the joy it expresses greater than the toy that set our spiral in motion?

With all of these realities in play, it’s now almost impossible to differentiate which is the giver and which the recipient.

I think it’s possible for someone to know
if a life of gratitude is being lived, if a
spiral is proceeding upward or not…

So, though gratitude cannot be measured – and pity the place where it is, the place where everything is tit for tat, reciprocity rules, the value of every gift is calculated and an accounting is always kept of who owes who what – I think it’s possible for someone to know if a life of gratitude is being lived, if a spiral is proceeding upward or not. Not only are thanks expressed easily and genuinely, but a larger gratitude comes into play, one that has the potential to save us from our greedy selves, one that extends further that same upward trajectory in which the thanks continuously seems to be rising.

I’ve written elsewhere that gratitude is one of the cardinal personal attributes expressed by those who find nature an important spiritual pathway. There’s always something in the natural realm for which to be grateful. Thankfulness is a marvelous discipline worth developing and celebrating, and an appreciative contemplation of God’s creation can help get us there. But it’s not necessarily only thanks to the Giver that is possible; think me not odd, but one can even be thankful to the gift for helping create the grateful awareness. If it’s an animate thing, one can be grateful even to it, and through it, to its Creator. For it’s all an acknowledgement that the earth is full of the works of the Lord (Psalm 111:2) whose good pleasure is that things have beauty. It’s a confession of faith that the earth is full of the glory of the Creator (Isaiah 6:3). It’s a testimony even of anticipation that the Giver has more gifts to share if we will but acknowledge their Source and receive them (Matthew 7:11 and James 1:17). In these ways, back to the image of the hawk on the thermal, the praise and gratitude keep ascending.
~~ RGM, April 19 2016

Sunday, April 10, 2016

QOTM...*: Wendell Berry's Spring

(*Quote of the Month)

To sit and look at light-filled leaves
May let us see, or seem to see,
Far backward as through clearer eyes
To what unsighted hope believes:
The blessed conviviality
That sang Creation’s seventh sunrise,

Time when the Maker’s radiant sight
Made radiant every thing He saw,
And every thing He saw was filled
With perfect joy and life and light.
His perfect pleasure was sole law;
No pleasure had become self-willed.

For all His creatures were His pleasures
And their whole pleasure was to be
What He made them: they sought no gain
Or growth beyond their proper measures,
Nor longed for change or novelty.
The only new thing could be pain.

                        ~~ Wendell Berry

I have shared quotes and poetry before by Wendell Berry, one of my favorite writers. (Click here for one of those posts.) But I recently reread his A Timbered Choir, a collection of pieces he calls his Sabbath poems, written during and after Sunday walks on his Kentucky farm. I was particularly touched by this piece, titled simply 1979, III.

It’s an Eastertide poem to me, something of which my spirit remains full. Speaking of the time before sin entered our existence, before we even had need of a Redeemer, it tells the ‘blessed conviviality of Creation’s seventh sunrise,’ when ‘our whole pleasure was to be what he made’ us to be. But other pleasures came to prevail within
and about us, many of which could only produce pain. Inferred here in spite of them is the hope of redemption, the longing for a restoration, or a re-creation, that could also only come from Creation’s Creator.

But for me it’s also a poem of springtime. The young season here has been nothing but a wild one so far. It started out with a bang -- a foot and a half of snow on spring’s third day -- in a storm that was supposed to have brought only three to five inches. (It’ll give us some great spring wildflowers in our arid meadows.) But since then we’ve had wildly vacillating temps between the teens and even the 70’s, tempestuous winds in excess of fifty miles an hour, a little bit
of rain, sleet and flurries, and much sunshine. The snow is long gone, but it still seems there’s a battle waging between old man winter and Mother Nature’s summer. We know, of course, which will prevail. At least for now…

Through the days here at 6000 feet, the leaf buds have swollen and we’ve begun to see the first hint of green on the river willows and cottonwoods, always the first deciduous trees to show here in Colorado. But I find my anticipation swelling along with the buds, and it brings me back to the joy of the poem. In my mind’s eye I already see that spring sun shining through those leaves, and I celebrate the hope-filled images of joy, life, light and a re-created earth that Easter makes 
                                         possible. Read the poem again if you have time, and enjoy these 
                                         images with me.

~~Blessed Eastertide,
RGM, April 6 2016