This post is the second in a series of three posts inspired by Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow
The second of Lamott’s “three essential prayers” is thanks. Religious progressives find ourselves on more universally safe ground here on the value of expressing gratitude. As the 13th-century mystic Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank You,’ that would suffice.” And choosing to emphasize the positive and focus on the good parts of your life can be transformative.
I’m not saying that we should be naively Pollyanna-ish. Rather, as the book Buddha’s Brain succinctly says, the human “brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones” (41). This evolutionary bias toward retaining the negative helped our ancestors survive threats in the wild long enough to pass on their genes, but to compensate today, savoring the positive can be one of the healthiest practices we can do to. And for many years one of my most consistent spiritual practices has been, when I lie down to go to sleep, to contemplatively review my day in my mind and savor at least five things that I’m deeply grateful for. Even on my worst days there are at least five (and many more) parts of the day that I’m grateful for.
As Jane Kenyon writes at the end of her poem “Otherwise”:
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
And with new headlines this weekend of more tragic gun violence, this time at a near-to-my-family shopping mall, we know deeply in our hearts that tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. We can only open our hearts in gratitude for all we are thankful for in our life, and open our hands to help build a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world for ourselves and for our children.
And a consummate example of gratitude for those parts of our life that feel like grace comes from one of my tradition’s Unitarian forbears, the poet e.e. cummings, who knew how to pray that essential prayer of “thanks.” He wrote at the beginning of one of his poems:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
For what parts of your life are you radically grateful? Toward what in your life can you proclaim an unqualified, “Yes!”
In your journey through this world, what has come to you gratis, as gift — “free of charge, no strings attached, on the house?”
What gift in your life might you need to celebrate as an amazing grace?
The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).
Learn more about Unitarian Universalism: