Friday, December 24, 2010

Gratitude—The Most Powerful Prayer—Perfect Holiday Prayer


If the only prayer you say in your life is “thank you,” that would suffice. —Meister Eckhart Tolle

There is a powerful truth in Eckhart Tolle’s words. When we are grateful, we feel full. In that moment, we do not seek for anything more. We are happy, complete and limitlessly fulfilled, and that is when we are in the true presence of the Divine. Inviting yourself to become the most grateful person you know is a most enjoyable way to turn daily activities into devotions of Divine awareness.

Growing up Catholic, I do not remember very much emphasis on gratitude. As a teacher, I now understand that those rituals in which we offered prayers of “blessed be” to saints that had gone before us was a way of blessing their lives in gratitude. But because the language was not common, nor the intention of the prayers explained, I did not realize that by opening my heart I could have felt the flood of delight that gratitude can bring.

We certainly said grace at our evening meals, but I can’t say that reciting the same rote prayer every night opened my heart in gratitude. We said the prayer together as a family and passed the food. It didn’t occur to me that plants’ and animals’ lives were surrendered so that I could live. I didn’t recognize that the Mother Earth was providing for my physical needs and that her life-force was sustaining mine. If I had, I might have been more specific and heart-felt in offering my prayers of gratitude before I ate.

It wasn’t until I experienced my first Native sweat lodge, where we were invited to share our prayers of personal gratitude, that I discovered the power of this prayer. I marveled as my heart opened wide and tears fell with each word of thanks I offered in that lodge. Life itself became holy to me. Rabbi Harold Kushner describes this experience so beautifully:

Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted--a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.

Gratitude nurtures and elevates spiritual consciousness. I don’t think it is possible to utter an honest, heart-felt prayer of gratitude to God, a person, an animal, the earth or even yourself, without feeling the magnificent fulfillment of the Divine pulsing within you. In gratitude, you realize that all life forms are expressions of Divine creation. In gratitude that comes directly from the heart, you transcend the limits of your mind’s perceptions into direct experience of the Divine. If you chose one prayer to pray throughout your lifetime, gratitude would be a powerful prayer to choose.

If you are not used to offering prayers of gratitude, consider saying a prayer of thanks in the morning when you wake up and again before you go to sleep. This anchors gratitude into the two most significant transition periods of your day.

If you already offer prayers of thanks in the morning and at night, try adding more prayers before each meal blessing the lives of the food and water that nurtures your body. Then bless and give thanks for your body and the unique experiences of your expression as a Divine being.

If you pray at meals and in the evening and morning, you may be ready for gratitude as an ongoing practice. When something troubles you, give thanks for its gifts. When you are involved in a mundane task, give thanks for the way in which the task blesses your life. When you are hoping for something, be in gratitude for the blessings that have not yet arrived. Consider being in awareness of the hidden gifts that may not look like gifts on the outside—the will of the Divine blessing your life in unobvious ways. And as Rabbi Kushner suggests, “see the holiness in the things you take for granted.”

In my own experience, it has mattered little whether my gratitude was offered to a Father or Mother God, my best friend, a sales clerk I didn’t know, a person I disliked, a tree that provided me with shelter, money I received, or if I simply felt grateful for a piece of art that inspired me. All of life is of Divine origin and creation. It is not to what or how the gratitude is conveyed that matters, it is the feeling of gratitude that opens the doorway to Divine awareness.