As many of you know, I’ve long admired Brother David Steindl-Rast’s work in being a proponent of gratitude and living from a place of thankfulness and gratefulness. He started an online presence of gratitude at gratefulness.org. The reflection for this week as part of the weekly email I receive was timely for Thanksgiving even though it wasn’t written for our Canadian Thanksgiving. It was from an interview that Brother David gave way back in 1983. And it is still timely today.
In 1983, Brother David was much more involved in the monastic tradition and was in dialogue with Eastern traditions around meditation and spiritual practices. In 1983, he said:
The end—in all of the monastic traditions, of both East and West—consists of cultivating mindfulness, being mindful… I think “wholeheartedness” is the English word that expresses better what mindfulness as a technical term means; that you respond to every situation from your center, from your heart—that you listen with your heart to every situation, and your heart elicits the response.
If you’re really mind-full, and if you underline that aspect of fullness, wholeness, or wholeheartedness, it reveals the gift character of everything. The full view consists of seeing each situation as purely gratis (free), and if you get that in mind, then your response is gratefulness.
That would be my (spiritual) practice: to try to live gratefully. Sometimes gratefulness has a passive connotation: You sit back and say thanks or something like that. Well, again, that’s not grate-fullness. The fullness shows itself when you realize that the gift within every gift is opportunity.
When I try to live more mindfully, or wholeheartedly, I often turn to poetry to help me. The late Mary Oliver wrote poems to help us be mindful and wholehearted by looking around us at the world in which we live and share with other beings. This short poem is called, When I Am Among the Trees:
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
If I were to sit down now, that would be enough for this sermon on this Thanksgiving Sunday. Essentially, live wholeheartedly and go easy into this world filled with life, with light, with hope, with compassion, with love… well, I do have a little more to say.
In John, chapter 6, Jesus also spoke about wholeheartedness and being filled. Chapter 6 is rather complex because John was trying to convey something of what we mean when taking communion—which we are not this morning. Chapter 6 is layered with meanings and deeper symbols and metaphors and is long, being 71 verses. Essentially for our purposes today, John through Jesus invites us to NOT take things for granted, especially food and bread, which means a whole lot more than just the things of the earth. It is Jesus’ reminder to us that all that we have is not ours to own and possess, but is ours to share with love and hope. We take for granted what is repeated often in the psalms and goes back to Genesis 1, that God is the Creator of all. A grace before meals that a friend of mine uses frequently starts, “You, loving God, open your hand and feed the world.”
I was reminded of taking things for granted on our recent holiday in September, and that we are called to live wholeheartedly and with intention. Our holiday was about connecting with family; we started with my family on Vancouver Island with my nephew’s wedding; we visited our kids in Vancouver and then I went to see the older two in Calgary. We then spent some time with Janet’s dad in Williams Lake and her sister in Vernon. And all of that capped off with Rachel Berg’s marriage to Kevin in Kelowna.
Two things occurred while away, which were opportunities for reflection for me. One was that Janet’s dad’s well pump died and so we were 4 days without running water. We relied on drinking water from town and water for washing from the neighbour. We hauled water and poured water and heated water. So much in our lives we take for granted as always being there, but do we give thanks for these things? Do I? I was forced to reflect on this and realize that there are a lot of things that I take for granted in life.
And the second opportunity for reflection was reconnecting with my mother’s brother, my uncle. I hadn’t seen him for 20 years and had heard that he was ill. I looked him up and found that he was in a home in Vernon. It was good to reconnect with him and to remember the bonds of family that hold us together. We can take for granted the relationships of our lives.
It’s important to live wholeheartedly—I like that word. Thanksgiving is an important time to remember NOT to take things for granted, like clean water, relationships, electricity, bread, shelter, hope, love and compassion. Let the trees remind us to pause to give thanks every day. That’s what our exercise is all about today in worship, little reminders to live wholeheartedly and to take nothing for granted. Say often, “I love you,” to those you love. And to those you’ve lost touch with and miss, reach out and be filled with gratitude and hope. We need more gratitude and hope in our lives and we need these things in our world today! Grate-fullness, a fullness of gratitude!
 David Steindl-Rast from the website gratefulness.org: https://gratefulness.org/resource/all-in-the-same-boat/?mc_cid=8a33c1c2d2&mc_eid=d35704a1e6.