Joann and I toasted our glasses before our Thanksgiving meal yesterday (the first turkey I’ve ever cooked...turned out well, if I may so). We actually always practice a “toast of gratitude” before our meals. This is partly because typical pre-meal prayers weren’t working for us anymore, but we didn’t want to complete negate some kind of pre-meal, religious, awareness-producing ritual. Asking God to bless our food and bless whatever else came to mind in that particular prayer seemed to be losing its meaning for us.
While I’m sure there are ways to re-infuse meaning into such a prayer, we have, for this season at least, opted for a toast, raising our glasses (or an applesauce jar and a maple syrup container when we forgot to grab beverages for our breakfast-for-dinner meal earlier this week) while taking turns mentioning something for which we’re grateful. Thanksgiving, and these “prayers” in general, make me want to live with a greater sense of gratitude, and to more frequently pray prayers of thankfulness.
Maybe others have experienced the occasional discomfort I have felt with prayers that by their nature express our discontent with some aspect of the present reality. I’ve prayed that God would relieve some burden, change some circumstance, give me more of this, give me less of that.
Some of my prayers have expressed authentic, heart-felt angst that I believe God cares about. Some of my prayers have revealed my needs to myself, a self-awareness I imagine God values. Some of my prayers have involved wishing change for others, which feels less self-centered. But I realize some of my prayers might also have conveyed to eavesdroppers an image of God as my personal servant, someone to help me out of a tight spot, or even God as a sort of drug, something to diminish the pain of a troubling circumstance.
I confess I'm a bit suspicious of such a view of God, regardless of the level of confidence with which my Christian culture believes that this is what God asks of us…to ask God for things so that God can meet our needs. I do think of God as a kind of comforting, attentive parent, and believe this to be a positive image. Yet I see the potential dangers--maybe an inflated ego, sense of entitlement, disappointment at "unanswered" prayers, among other things--that come with a God to whom we make requests.
What I want more of in my spirituality is gratitude. A heightened awareness of the endless gifts that abound all around me. A gratitude for the people in my life and the unique journey they are on and gifts they possess. Gratitude for my health. For beauty. For the way people can laugh together, comfort one another. For warmth, for coolness. For black and for white and for gray. For clarity and for mystery.
For scents, tastes, sights, sounds, textures. For progress and improvement. For grace in the midst of regression. For supportive people in painful circumstances. For imagination and creativity. For that bird flying in that flock above as I run, as well as every other bird in that same flock, all perhaps initially so simple-looking but actually increasingly complex the more they are examined on the ladder from behavior to biology to chemistry to physics and beyond.
For the gift of life, just as it is, without modification, without a need to wish for better circumstances, with an awareness that the present moment is good and beautiful, and that I need not wish only to be elsewhere, for better or just different times, but can experience deep profound joy and peace just by opening my eyes and looking around.
It is certainly not a new insight for me to point out how humans are often more inclined to use the world than to enjoy it…to see the world as something to be consumed rather than savored. I often eat my meals too fast…a tendency I learned in school growing up, I think, when the faster you ate your food, the more recess time you got. It takes a certain amount of discipline to eat slowly and savor a meal. I desire this discipline to extend beyond just eating to the whole of my life…to live in gratitude for what’s in front of me.
So I guess I do have a more demanding sort of prayer, the kind I semi-critiqued above: that God would remove whatever hinders me from seeing and from savoring that which is all around me...those "gifts" that should leave me in a constant state of gratitude for my existence and for the richness of that existence, just as it is, without any change. I kind of wonder if God isn't often saying to people something like "don't look at me...look around."
Oh, and this: