If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. Meister Eckhart.
Gratitude is a Way of Life – The Gratitude Series – Part 1
Every morning in Jewish culture, when they wake up, before they do anything else, while they’re still in bed, they pray this prayer called the “Modeh Ani”:
“I am thankful before You, living and enduring King, for you have mercifully restored my soul within me. Great is Your faithfulness.“
The ancient tradition behind this prayers is that every night when sleep comes, your soul experiences a little death and ascends to heaven to be recharged by God. In the morning, your soul is returned, the gift of life re-granted.
Jewish people have been through so much oppression since their beginning, and I dare say that gratitude is part of the reason they and their tradition has not only survived but flourished. Their daily prayers are like an ongoing seminar in gratitude; always pulling them back to the moment, to what they have, where they are, and the gift that lies within it all… yep, even with the bad stuff.
In fact, gratitude could be just the thing that inoculates us from the destruction and tyranny of misfortune and tragedy. There are so many studies – too many to expound on here but check out www.happify.com, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu,
and do a gratitude search at the Ted Talk web page – that give compelling evidence that gratitude has the power to change our hearts, physiology, and psychology.
It's not a quick fix, but a daily practice of thankfulness. I sometimes wonder if our ancient Mothers and Fathers weren’t more aware of the connection that our physical and spiritual lives have when they did such things as institute a daily prayer practice where the first words they utter are:
“I am thankful before you.”
I also wonder why, when I started researching this topic for this series, that this Bible story always comes up as a children’s story. It seems to me that adults are the ones who need this message most. It's found in Luke 17:11-19. I’ll paraphrase:
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, and when he got to an area that was on the border between Samaria and Galilee, ten men approached him but stayed at a distance because they were lepers. They called out to Jesus and asked him to heal them. Jesus replied, telling them that they should go and show themselves to the priest (so they could be deemed clean to re-enter society). On the way to the priest, all ten men found themselves healed. One of the men (a Samaritan… more on that in the coming days), returned to Jesus, fell before him, and cried “thank you” over and over again. “So where are the other nine?” Jesus asked. “Weren’t there ten who were healed? They all refused to return to give thanks and give glory to God except you, a foreigner from Samaria?” (Luke 17:17-18). Then Jesus told the man to get up, and I’d like to imagine that the two of them (one a Jewish Rabbi, one a Samaritan and ex-leper) embraced.
Apparently, this story found only in the gospel of Luke is categorised safe enough for children's literature. I remember hearing it performed by one of my Sunday School teachers who legitimately looked like Ned Flanders. In a stern voice, his body not moving a muscle, except for his wide eyes that locked on each of us as he scanned the room with them, he would say: You must be THANKFUL! His serious admonition didn’t come from generosity or gratitude. It was full of angst and demand and “you owe so you better pay.”
Gratitude is not something we owe God/life/others/ourselves. Gratitude is a way of being. We are invited to be grateful. You cannot be forced into it, that negates its whole essence.
If you zoom out on this story found in Luke, you might discover that it's far from safe: it’s wild and provocative, and life-changing.
You might see that the Samaritan man – who had was culturally repugnant to the Jewish people and yet was healed and embraced by Jesus and was THE ONLY ONE who returned to thank him – he was probably grateful long before this day ever happened.
Gratitude is a practice that becomes a way of life. And it's never too late to start.