Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Why is it so hard to say 'thank you'? Is it shyness, as in the case of my students, who complete one of my courses and rarely say anything? Is it self-absorption or simply a lack of training in courtesy?

The reason could be some or all of the above; it could also be, as in the case of a few friends who don't acknowledge their indebtedness to me, a reluctance to relinquish their independence. For to say 'thank you' in a meaningful way is to acknowlege one's dependence on the generosity of another.

When I feel hurt by being taken for granted by people who fail to show gratitude, I am reminded of the Gospel story of the ten lepers. All were healed, yet only one went back to Jesus to say 'thank you.' That story has always resonated with me, for whatever reason. I have always wondered about those other nine since it seems so natural to give thanks, especially for such a gift!

And I have always been aware of the need to say 'thank you' to relatives and friends--and especially to God. The older I get, the more I see that much of what I call prayer is essentially an expression of my gratitude to God or the universe for the singular, unrepeatable wonder of each day.

I look at the blue Florida sky, notice the flowering plants, listen to the birdsong, talk to friends, meet people, read books, enjoy my home, appreciate my wife, talk to my cat--and in being aware of all of this, especially at the end of the day, when I sense the richness of the little experiences that have constituted the day, I am filled with gratitude. Ordinary affirmations are prayerful expressions of gratitude that help overcome the annoying or negative aspects of life, as when pains and problems tend to dominate our lives.

I don't know if God is personally responsible for each of these points of happiness, but God is the overall source of all that is good. And, as the Psalmist says, "in the midst of everything, God is with us."

That prayer is essentially gratitude is an idea beautifully expressed by David Steindl-Rast. This Benedictine monk and writer, born in Austria, is one of my spiritual mentors. "Gratefulness: the Heart of Prayer" and his book on listening are among my favorite friends. He shows us how simple prayer really is.

I am grateful for Brother David's wisdom as my journey continues.