Discovering the Gift of Gratitude in Hard Times

“Pray without ceasing.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:17

And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; – Romans 5:3-4

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Mt 6:21

Thomas Merton’s personal agenda for self-improvement must have fallen flat, which allowed him to fall more deeply into God and his True Self. He became far less concerned with the “I” who prayed than he was with the “One” to whom, with whom, and in whom he was praying.

— Fr. Richard Rohr

Lately I have been reflecting on what my life was like fifty years ago.

This Thanksgiving week in 1970, I had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had arrived at St Jude Children’s Hospital the previous Thursday. My chemo and radiation treatment began Monday. By that Thursday – Thanksgiving Day – I was too sick to join family at the table of celebration.

Within six months, I had been so sick from the harsh treatment that I went from 115 pounds down to 75 pounds.

But it was through those hardest of times in the 1970s that I began to experience a deeper power through compassion and gratitude. Over time and through many connections (especially in Nature) with a mystery beyond my little self, I began to experience and trust awe. (It was like a shift in awareness from our busy chronos time, to God’s Presence in kairos time.) In what I now understand as an intentional awareness of contemplative prayer or Christian mindfulness, I frequently have had experiences of a deep gratitude in being Present with the “the One to whom, with whom, and in whom I was praying.” And it has become an ever-Present opening to God’s healing Presence. I think it is what Paul was trying to communicate when he wrote “pray without ceasing”.

Though much of that time was difficult, as were my relapse and other complications over the years to come, I began to discover “heart-treasures” of compassion that connected me to something much bigger than my struggles. It was as if the vulnerability and uncertainty awakened me to a deeper reality of a hidden wholeness, a deep trust and a peace that passes understanding.

My call to ministry was rooted in this “x-ray vision” of gratitude. How I try to listen is slower, with “ears of the heart” that help me hear many of the ways the Spirit connects us in communities of compassion and warms our hearts. In the midst of… and beneath grief and sorrow, I discovered joy and wonder.

Now, here we are, in the annual, but not-very-traditional Thanksgiving and Holiday Season of the already infamous year of 2020.

We are in hard times as never before. It is a time that calls us to let go of our fearful assumptions and smaller expectations so that we may be present this Thanksgiving and Holiday Season at a deeper level. Perhaps the year 2020 can be the beginning of a new awakening to 20/20 visions of healing hearts and soulful hearing.

I am grateful to be alive this week, 50 years after starting treatment at St Jude (patron saint of hopeless causes.) But I am especially grateful for the gift of gratitude that I discovered through the hardest of times. Back then, now, fifty years from now, and beyond, it is not so much about what is happening on the outside. Though chemo for cancer, and vaccines for a pandemic are important, at least equally important is how we see ourselves and one another. Through contemplative openness and being unceasingly prayerful, we can experience an awareness of God’s loving Presence. In many of the eternal moments of a given day, we can discover the treasure of a grateful heart and a deep hope in the power of compassion.

Through these hard times, may you and yours discover new awareness, the gift of gratitude and the power of compassion.

Come join our open group that meets each week via Zoom. It is a community for deep listening, as we “Practice Prayerful Presence” every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30-10:30 am.

Grace and Peace on our life-journey that spans across the generations.

Dr. Len Delony
Part-Time Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

– Reinhold Niebuhr
The Irony of American History


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