Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gratitude for the Banquet of Life - Part I

As we move into the holy days of three spiritual traditions, I offer these thoughts on three ways that we can improve our "gratitude attitude"—approaching life as a banquet, a feast—even in what feels like challenging times. 

(Part I appears today. Part II will be posted on Friday.)

Grateful for the Banquet of Life

Part I

Each fall and winter, I find myself falling into the lap of gratitude. Perhaps it’s the changing of seasons, or the simple knowing that significant holidays are around the corner, that I sink into feelings of appreciation for life, and my life, in particular.

For many of us, 2011 has been a year of unexpected ups and downs. My own life is no exception. What comes to mind, however, is how we can still set a place for gratitude at the table of life, despite having plates laden with reality-jarring experiences. Can we be grateful for all that is, and even all that is not?

One day, as I sat in my local library, pondering these exact questions (and admittedly, feeling a bit sorry for myself—it was one of those days), I looked up to discover a book on the new arrivals shelf calling out to me: How We Behave at the Feast: Reflections on Living in an Age of Plenty, by Dwight Currie. Turning to the first page, this is what I read:

“Never before in human history have so many of us luxuriated in pleasures once reserved for royalty. Look at the comforts, the conveniences, the cars, and the clothes. Think of the leisure, the travel, the arts, and the culture we enjoy. ...So I ask, ‘Are we having fun yet?’ Why not? What’s wrong?”

Currie goes on to say that we are fast becoming a nation full of whiners. We are anxious, bitter, confused. We are envious, fearful, greedy, and hostile. “Why this alphabet soup,” he asks,” of indigestion as we belly up to a buffet of unprecedented bounty?” He continues by admonishing us, “We have forgotten our manners. We care too much about what we can get—how much we inherit—too little about how we behave.” The man packs a punch, that’s for sure, and reading his words humbled me greatly.

The author’s observations seemed to me to be true. We are rude to one another in public places, we grab what we can get (and feel we deserve more), we complain loudly if things don’t go our way, and, in general, behave pretty badly while seated at this banquet we call life. We live in the richest country in the world, and, yet, treat our abundance and the choices offered us as if they were nothing special at all.

As a young girl, I witnessed a powerful lesson on this very subject. We welcomed a young man from Nigeria into our home. Our church had sponsored his arrival in the United States and host families were helping him make the transition. My mother took him to the local supermarket for food, and, in complete awe of the cornucopia laid out before him, he stood motionless, paralyzed, unable to make a decision on what to purchase. I can only imagine how his supermarket at home must have looked, if, indeed, there was such a thing. We take so much for granted.

What can we do every day, especially this holiday season, to tap into greater appreciation of the bounty we have been given? How can we move from whining about life, to whistling to the delight of its melody? We can read Dwight Currie’s book which offers us 52 seasonal readings to help us light the inner fire of gratitude. Or, we can start where we are right now, wipe the lenses through which we view the world, and try to walk through life with greater awareness of the blessings that abound—yes, even in times that may feel challenging.

On Friday, I'll post 3 powerful spiritual practices that can help us do this. 
Stay tuned!


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