As the tides of our Christmas Bacchanalia revels subside, it is astoundingly easy to drown in feelings of loss and broken hopes, from “I didn’t get the toy I wanted” to “Our %$#&! flight was late!” We can always find something to complain about – that’s one of the inherent abilities (gifts?) of mankind. Recalling the principle of “what we focus on expands,” this mindset can lead quickly to an awareness of loss, dissatisfaction, and depression. There are an alarming number of people who suffered, died, and lost things important to them at this time of year, as there are all the time. All of us share moments and periods of misery in our lives, passages of loss and depression, and it is very easy to slip into deep wells of darkness. How do we survive?
All things being equal, I would rather be happy. As those things we focus on expand, I would rather concentrate on the good in my life. The family around me who cares (or at times, tolerates), the delight on the faces of my daughters when we see each other, having those around me who have offered warm places to stay, and food – even receiving the necessities of life is a wonderful miracle. The miracle is not in the idea that such is a rarity, but the miracle is an ongoing occurrence, reaffirming my hope and appreciation for those around me.
The Sufis teach that while Jesus was a wandering itinerant preacher, he only owned the robes he wore and received all things in gratitude. When asked whether he resented being penniless and homeless or whether he missed the trappings of wealth, Jesus reportedly answered, “I lack for nothing! The moon is my lantern, my sandals are my chariot, and the morning sun is my winter’s fire!” He lived his mortal life in a constant state of gratitude, taught that others should do the same, and even the elements themselves responded.
How do we show gratitude? I believe charity is the natural extension of gratitude, and the two are inextricably linked. Paul taught, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. . . And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Corinthians 13:2, 13) And Mohammed taught, “Your smile for another is charity.” (Hadith: Charity)
Louie Schwartzberg is a pioneering photographer in the field of time-lapse film. He has spent years losing himself in the majesties of nature, and has discovered within himself increasing wells of gratitude for the miracles he witnesses daily. His beautiful TEDTalk film (above) shares some of his observation, coupled with meditation from Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast.
This year, as with many years for many people, has been filled with loss of all sorts. It has also – again for many people – been filled with wonderful things. One of the blessings I received was the beautiful observation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu describing the greatest reason for us to feel gratitude.
We all have something tremendous to be grateful for – God made us not because He had to, and we are not at all random. God made us because He wanted to. How remarkable is that?