The Grace of Gratitude

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.
-Meister Eckhart

One of my most treasured memories was of one of the last Thanksgivings before my step mother Claire died. Thanksgiving had always been “her” holiday, a day of cooking and feasting, children and step children and grandchildren. As our motley crew of relations gathered around the table, she asked us to join hands. “Instead of a blessing,” she said, “I’d like everyone to say one thing they are thankful for.” It was a year with a lot to be thankful for. Her cancer had gone into remission, and she was a vital as ever. We each took our turn, even my normally stoic father, and named the ways we had been blessed in the previous year. I remember feeling like, for the first time in a long time, I was really praying.

During my sophomore year of college, my step mother’s cancer returned and spread rapidly. She died before her holiday, when I was planning on returning home. I was devastated, questioning my faith, and feeling very alone in Minnesota while the rest of my family mourned in Massachusetts. Shortly after, my friend Sara bought the book 14000 Things to be Happy About and instituted the practice of daily happiness e-mails. Every morning she dutifully sent an e-mail to a small circle of her friends that simply said, “Today I am thankful for …” followed by a sampling from the book: honey in straws, geese flying south across a high blue sky, the indented space under kitchen counters. Pretty soon, we all wanted to get in on the act. At the e-mail’s peak, I was getting upwards of five e-mails a day with thoughts like, “Today I am happy for pancakes at breakfast,” “Today I am grateful for Peppermint Trident, my snooze button, and your mom (ha ha),” “Right now I’m happy about Easy Mac and the trails at St. John’s.” There was a magical, mystical quality to the exercise. I was amazed at how delightful my world was, and how lucky I was to be in it. I felt myself becoming more and more connected to my little gratitude community, and more open to the possibility of a loving God. How could there not be, in a world I had come to be so grateful for?

It’s no exaggeration to say that gratitude is my spiritual path, and like any spirituality, I cannot contain it to one day. I try to remember to say “thank you” every chance I get – when I manage to catch my bus, when the first snowfall turns my husband into a kid again, when I look in my refrigerator and know that I won’t go hungry. But Thanksgiving, like all our holy days and holidays, serves as a reminder of what can sometimes be lost in the daily shuffle. I hope this Thanksgiving is an opportunity to be reminded of everything you count as a blessing – Easy Mac and snooze buttons included.

Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and amateur hagiographer living in Wisconsin and working in non-profit administration. She is a graduate of the College of Saint Benedict and the recipient of the Katharine Drexel Scholarship at the Washington Theological Union. She currently resides in Wisconsin with her spouse Evan.

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