Sunday, September 8, 2013

Saying Grace


Every time we walk in to or out of the house now,  we go past my husband's meadow.  And whether we are going for a walk, or getting into the car to go to Mass or to a doctor's appointment, or returning from a trip, we always take a moment to look at it. 

There is always a new flower peeking out or a new bud forming.    The bees land on the flowers and their landings and liftings make for a gentle continuous ripple of movement.   There is a soothing hum in the air, and also a pleasant moisture and fragrance.    Sometimes when we look out the window we see a deer family in the meadow.   We hope they are not eating the flowers, but if they are, there are still plenty left.  

Photo: Kevin's meadow has pretty purple flowers now.

I recently realized how the meadow is more than just beauty and peace punctuating stray moments of our lives.   When we pause to look at it we both have a sense of mingled satisfaction and gratitude.   My husband is proud because it was him and his boys who plowed up the ground, planted the seeds, watered it daily.   We also feel a kind of gratitude, though, because flowers are not machines.  They come up as they will, as God directs them to. 

There is a kind of miracle involved, a gratuitousness.   We feel just a little echo of that feeling we shared when our babies were first born and we saw their marvellous completeness, and contemplated the bond between our Lord's creative work and our own cooperation which resulted in such a wonderful thing as a baby.
I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  -- GK Chesterton

Yesterday, one of my sons and I were talking about that negative voice we have in our heads:  You know, the one that says things like "I can't believe you did something so stupid" or "you just never change, do you?"   I've read books that suggest that this voice comes from your bad parents, but I had parents who never said things like this to me, nor did I ever say them to my son.  

Seems like we are perfectly capable of making up our own inner critic, just as a child is capable of making up his own monsters.  
The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
Nor is it our Christian faith that makes us internally torn about our failures, even though some parts of our modern society thinks of it that way.  We already knew we were broken and unable to fix ourselves.  One has only to read the Greek plays, or live till the age of five years old, in any household, religious or not.

One will be fully conscious that "the good that I want to do, I do not.... and the evil I do not want, this I do.

What the Church provides is a remedy, a Savior to slay the dragon, to rescue us.  

Many of the spiritual writers, St Ignatius and St Francis de Sales to take two particular instances, put great emphasis on associating gratitude with the daily examination of conscience.     Before you start looking at the inevitable lapses of the day, you are asked to rest for a moment in gratitude to God.

“I ask God to give me an intimate knowledge of the many gifts I have received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.”  St Ignatius

 At The Catholic Young Woman, my daughter wrote a reflection called Seeing Gratitude in the Mirror.    If you are like me and are gratitude-challenged, this is a good place to start.  Got anything you are not entirely happy about?  You HAVE it.    Imagine your life without that thing altogether.   
When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. –GK Chesterton (HT Patheos --GKC on Gratitude

Even if you are the melancholy type more inclined to notice the one spot on a polished surface, you don't have to FEEL gratitude.  You just have to acknowledge that the good God has given you this thing.   I have been working on this and it is slowly starting to sink in.  
“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts,”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I used to feel like the Jesuit emphasis on gratitude in the examination of conscience was sort of touchy-feely and 20th century modern.   So I would too often skip it, or use it as one more stick to beat myself over the head with ("look at all God has done for you, and you are still such a loser!"). 
But reading Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, I am realizing that gratitude is at the very foundation of the saint's approach.   Putting it at the front of the examen is carefully thought through.  
It is a way to reorient yourself, to see things how they really are.   
You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. –G. K. Chesterton

It is also a way to get that remorse thing right, so that you don't mistake the interior critic for the voice of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not a scold.   You don't summon gratitude just to give it another vindictive voice that will tell you that there is no hope for you.  
The gratitude is an acknowledgement of the way things really are, which includes the miracle of forgiveness and restoration to grace for those of us who have strayed away from our Father's house -- which means, for everybody. 
When I need to remember that, now I only have to look at the meadow.    It reminds me of the liveliness, the freshness, the color and variety and abundance of the ways God blesses our cooperation in His providential will.


  1. Beautiful, Willa -- the meadow and the post. :) I needed the reminder that I don't need to FEEL gratitude to be thankful. I usually think I'm messing that up to (You Loser! You can't even be thankful!) but if you can BE loving without feeling loving I guess you can BE thankful without a rush of emotion.

    Now I'm off to figure out how I can get a meadow like that in my small suburban yard. :)

  2. So beautiful- the meadow and your reflections!


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