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Gratitude: the Key is Surprise


My name is Shalom Agtarap, a pastor here in Seattle, Washington. I was asked to ponder practices of gratitude. But first, what is it? What is gratitude? One of my most favorite books is called "Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer" because it has impacted my life in such an enormous way. Brother David talks about gratitude as a posture. It's a feeling but it's also a practice. It's a way of seeing the world. Gratitude, he says, is prayer. When I see everything in the world as given, then my whole being feels like it has received a gift and the only appropriate response is "thank you." Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer we ever say is 'thanks', that would be enough." But often, I say thank you from only one part of myself. If someone holds the door open for me, I have been conditioned to say "thank you." But sometimes I do it without making eye contact. And sometimes I say it in such a low and hurried tone, they may not have even heard me. Is this what it means to be grateful? What keeps us from saying, "thank you" to all that we find, with our whole being? What keeps us from having a heart of gratitude? I believe the key element to gratitude is surprise. When I believe I could not be more unimpressed by something, that, "it's what I expect, why should it surprise me?" When I assume that I am entitled to something, then it's as if all sense of mystery evaporates. The thing that stifles gratitude is when we move through the world as if everything were planned out, as if nothing out of the ordinary can or should happen, and we were entitled to everything good thing. You know, people who've lived through close calls; near death experiences; almost losing a loved one, these folks know we are not entitled to anything. And often they'll live differently as a result of that experience. When we wake up to what is present all around us, what's bubbling up within us day to day, minute to minute, we find everything to be a gift. When we take nothing for granted, we receive life itself as a gift. When I receive the kind note in my mailbox as a gift, I then realize my friendship with the person who sent it is a gift. And when I think about my friendship with that one person, it becomes easy to remember my friendship with others. It's as if you are throwing gratitude stones into a lake and as these ripples expand to ever-widening circles of gratitude, I believe we become fully alive. 

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