With gratitude to those who serve.

sisters

Today, in the United States, we honor our veterans and thank them for their service defending this country and its principles of equality, freedom, and justice for all. Our understanding of those concepts has evolved over time, and taken some steps back, but today let us be grateful for how far we’ve come and consider the steps that we each might take today and every day to make this country move closer to the ideals for which it stands.

Open to surprise.

surprise

How much do our expectations get in the way of our gratefulness? If we were expecting nothing, would our eyes open more to all the gifts we receive each day. Brother David Steindhal-Rast explores just this link between surprise and gratitude:

Have you ever noticed how your eyes open a bit wider when you are surprised? It is as if you had been asleep, merely day-dreaming or sleepwalking through some routine activity, and you hear your favorite tune on the radio, or look up from the puddles on the parking lot and see a rainbow, or the telephone rings and it’s the voice of an old friend, and all of a sudden you’re awake. Even an unwelcome surprise shakes us out of complacency and makes us come alive. We may not like it at first, but looking back, we can always recognize it as a gift. Humdrum equals deadness; surprise equals life. In fact, my favorite name for the One I worship in wonder – the only name that does not limit God – is Surprise.

Right this moment, as I remember spiritual giants I have been privileged to meet – Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama – I can still feel the life energy they radiated. But how did they come by this vitality? There is no lack of surprises in this world, but such radiant aliveness is rare. What I observed was that these people were all profoundly grateful, and then I understood the secret.

Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise

A surprise does not make us automatically alive. Aliveness is a matter of give-and-take, of response. If we allow surprise to merely baffle us, it will stun us and stunt our growth. Instead, every surprise is a challenge to trust in life and so to grow. Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise. The great ones in the realm of Spirit are so intensely alive because they are so deeply grateful.

Gratefulness can be improved by practice. But where shall beginners begin? The obvious starting point is surprise. You will find that you can grow the seeds of gratefulness just by making room. If surprise happens when something unexpected shows up, let’s not expect anything at all. Let’s follow Alice Walker’s advice. “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”

To expect nothing may mean not taking for granted that your car will start when you turn the key. Try this and you will be surprised by a marvel of technology worthy of sincere gratitude. Or you may not be thrilled by your job, but if for a moment you can stop taking it for granted, you will taste the surprise of having a job at all, while millions are unemployed. If this makes you feel a flicker of gratefulness, you’ll be a little more joyful all day, a little more alive.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all. It never ceases to amaze me that my body both produces and destroys 15 million red blood cells every second. Fifteen million! That’s nearly twice the census figure for New York City. I am told that the blood vessels in my body, if lined up end to end, would reach around the world. Yet my heart needs only one minute to pump my blood through this filigree network and back again. It has been doing so minute by minute, day by day, for the past 75 years and still keeps pumping away at 100,000 heartbeats every 24 hours. Obviously this is a matter of life and death for me, yet I have no idea how it works and it seems to work amazingly well in spite of my ignorance.

I do not know how my eyes adapt, yet when I chant by candlelight they are 100,000 times more sensitive to light than when I read outdoors on the porch at noon. I wouldn’t know how to give instructions to the 35 million digestive glands in my stomach for digesting one single strawberry; fortunately, they know how to do their job without my advice. When I think of this as I sit down to eat, my heart brims with gratefulness.

From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights.

In those moments, I can identify with the Psalmist who cried out in amazement, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps.139:14) From there it is only a small step to seeing the whole universe and every smallest part of it as surprising. From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights. Thomas Carlyle pointed to these peaks of spiritual awareness when he wrote, “Worship is transcendent wonder” – transcendent surprise.

Surprise is a seed; let it sprout and blossom today to color your life with gratitude.

 

 

Mistake inventory=growth inventory.

mistake

Who among us can make it from birth to grave without a mistake? Mistakes are such an inevitable part of trying something new, of learning, of growing that it would be impossible. And yet we don’t like to admit that we make mistakes. Constantly. But perhaps the real harm is in not learning from our mistakes, not stretching our view of the world to admit a new insight, not bending our routine to reflect a better way of doing something, not opening up to a perspective we hadn’t considered. As we take stock of ourselves today, let’s consider all the ways we’ve grown in our beliefs, our behaviors, and  insights. We used to believe the world was flat, but now we see it is round, and that makes a world of difference.

Taking responsibility.

buck

President Truman kept a plaque on his desk with the phrase ‘The buck stops here,” meaning it was his job to make decisions and to accept responsibility for those decisions. President Jimmy Carter pulled that plaque out of storage to keep the reminder in front of him as well.

But what does it mean? A quick Wikipedia search comes up with two possible etymologies:

The expression is said to have originated from poker, in which a marker or counter (such as a knife with a buckhorn handle during the American Frontier era) was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the “buck”, as the counter came to be called, to the next player.

Another less common but arguably less fanciful attribution is to the French expression bouc émissaire, meaning “scapegoat”, whereby passing the bouc is equivalent to passing the blame or onus.[3] The terms bouc émissaire and scapegoat both originate from an Old Testament (Lev. 16:6–10) reference to an animal that was ritually made to carry the burden of sins, after which the “buck” was sent or “passed”into the wilderness to expiate them.

So, either a refusal to take responsibility and kick the can down the road, or an intentional decision to blame someone else for your own actions. In either event, passing the buck is a refusal to take responsibility and act on it.

It can be difficult to discern what is our responsibility. One could argue we have a responsibility to fix harm we’ve caused, to prevent harm within our power to prevent, and to accept blame and credit when due. But these aren’t bright lines, and often decisions are complex and complicated by the actions and responsibilities of other players. That’s where the Serenity Prayer comes in:

 

For those things within your control, have the courage to change what you can and to do your part.

You alone are you.

unique

You alone are you. Of all the humans now and from the beginning of time and out into the future, billions upon billions of people, there is only one you. That’s quite staggering. And then when you factor in the other unique things about you–your family, your home and work, your life experience, your thoughts and feelings, even if scientists were to make an exact clone of you, it wouldn’t be you. You are special.

In this delightful video, preschool students take time to greet each other in a unique way.

 

What a lovely reminder that each of us is special.

Deep breaths.

tail

Carrot or stick? Both can be powerful motivators. These days advertisers and politicians prey on our fears–of the future, of each other, of failure. Crowds can be whipped into frenzies when their fears are stoked.

But where do we go with that fear? Our hearts are racing our bodies primed for flight, but where is there to go when the enemy may not really exist?

One of the most powerful antidotes to fear is rationality. Walk yourself through the foundational underpinnings of what you’re afraid of. Is this true? Will this worst case scenario happen? Is the conclusion supported by the facts? Is someone taking advantage of biases and stereotypes?

And breathe. Not quick and short breaths getting you ready to fight, but slow considered breaths preparing you for wisdom.

Expect the Unexpected.

pencil

The world is changing and unpredictable. It’s hard to know how to plan for our futures.

What will tomorrow bring?

One thing is sure, ten years from now, things will not be like they are today. Rather than consternate over it, maybe it’s easier to learn how to be adaptable.

Smile.

smile

You want to start a chain reaction that can circle the globe and find its way back to you?

Smile.

To get you started, here is a darling video of a girl dancing with her dog.

Loving thy neighbor.

worldpeace

When you have the power, or are on top, or when everything is going your way, it’s only natural to want to strut. You don’t want to think about a time when you might be powerless, on the bottom, or have the world against you.

That’s a downer, isn’t it?

But that’s exactly where religion urges us to go, to think about the world from other perspectives, to consider what life is like for people without your privilege, to have empathy with the unfortunate. Because, after all, if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you hope they would look out for you?

I shall not pass this way again.

passthroughlife

There is an elephant in the room. We don’t talk about it, we try not to think about it, we pretend it doesn’t exist. That elephant is the fact that we are all on a one way journey through this life. Our time is limited. None of us knows in advance when our end of the journey will come, but that end will come.

When we pull ourselves out of denial and gaze directly at this elephant, we can realize something important: our opportunities should be seized now. That good we can do? Don’t put it off. That kind word? Say it. That gift or remembrance? Give it now.

We will not have this place and time and opportunity to make a difference again.