On the Attitude of Gratitude
(Kgs.5:14-17; 2Tim.2:8-13; Lk.17:11-19)
The German mystic Meister Eckhart O.P. (1260-1328) once said that if the only prayer we ever said was ‘thank you’, it would be enough.
Why is that? It’s because gratitude is an attitude that leads us to God.
In Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus finds ten men suffering from leprosy. It’s a curable disease now, but back then leprosy was frightful. It meant rotting flesh and complete social rejection.
Jesus heals all ten men, but nine aren’t very grateful. Only one, a Samaritan, returns to thank Jesus. Only he is humble enough to appreciate the gift he’s given. And when he thanks Jesus, he receives an even greater gift: his heart and soul are filled with divine grace. He’s not only physically healed, but he’s spiritually transformed as well.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, ‘I’ve come that they may have life, life in all its fullness’. Our life is a grace that comes from God. We are like vessels into which this precious life has been poured. Like the grateful leper, the more we open our hearts, the more of God’s divine life we’ll receive.
Now, what is the opposite of gratitude? It’s taking things for granted. That’s what the nine lepers did. Because of their hardened hearts, they missed out on something truly remarkable.
Gratitude is powerful. It’s the difference between just going through the motions and really being alive. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, it’s only through gratitude that life becomes rich.
Etty Hillesum understood that. She was a young Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam during WWII. She was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943, aged only 29. But she was drawn to Christianity and she kept a diary for three years.
She wrote, ‘… even if you live in an attic and have nothing but dry bread to eat, life is still worth living. … There’s so much to relish, life is rich …’ [i]
Etty Hillesum had a strong sense of God’s presence everywhere, even in the Nazi death camps. God’s presence filled her with warmth and vitality. She cared for the sick and the vulnerable and she became a real source of life and inspiration to others.
On the day she and her family boarded the train for Auschwitz, she wrote, ‘We left the camp singing’.
Etty also wrote: ‘Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude’.
Yes, gratitude is an attitude that leads us to God.
Someone else we can learn from is Elizabeth Bartlett, an American University professor who had a heart transplant, aged 42.
She said, ‘I’ve found it’s not enough for me to be thankful. I have a desire to do something in return. To do thanks. To give thanks. Give things. Give thoughts. Give love. So gratitude becomes the gift, creating a cycle of giving and receiving, the endless waterfall. Filling up and spilling over. To give from the fullness of my being. This comes not from a feeling of obligation … Rather, it’s a spontaneous charitableness, perhaps not even to the giver but to someone else, to whoever crosses one’s path. It’s the simple passing on of the gift’. [ii]
So, gratitude is life-changing. Elizabeth Bartlett received more than a new heart; her gratefulness gave her a brand new way of living.
If we want new life, we must open up our hearts, too. And when we open our hearts, God’s grace flows though us to others.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote: ‘You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and … grace before the play … 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’.
He also said, ‘When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas … Why aren’t we grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?’
We have much to be thankful for. Life is good.
Gratitude, then, isn’t just a form of courtesy; it’s the force of our faith. It stems from humility and it’s the source of all joy.
Gratitude keeps us grounded in the good times and it lifts us up when we’re down.
That’s why gratitude
is an attitude that leads us to God.
[i] Meins G.S. Coetsier, Etty Hillesum and the Flow of Presence. University of Missouri Press, Columbia. 2008:159.
[ii] Wilkie & Noreen Au, The Grateful Heart. Paulist Press, N.Y. 2011:5