A Talk by Robert Perry at Unity Church in Sedona, Arizona
As you know I'm a teacher of A Course in Miracles, and therefore I'll be basing my remarks this morning on a lesson from the Course's Workbook. It is Lesson 195, "Love is the way I walk in gratitude," which contains some profound teachings on gratitude.
Of course I'm talking about gratitude because Thanksgiving has just passed, so the theme of thankfulness is in the air. We often use this holiday as a time to reflect on the things we are grateful for. Some of us even pause for a moment before our Thanksgiving meal and enumerate the blessings that have come into our lives over the past year. Maybe we have a new home. Or a new child. Perhaps we have a new partner. Perhaps we got a better job, or a raise in our current one
This is a logical time to look at all of the ways in which our life has improved and become something to be thankful for. But how exactly do we know if our life really is something to be thankful for? This is a very subjective issue. One of the important ways we measure this is that we look at our life in relation to those around us.
For instance, if right now you have a tiny, black and white TV set, and that's the only TV you have, that's obviously nothing to be thankful for. But if that's what you had in 1947, you'd be very thankful, because you'd be the only house on your block with a TV.
We use this sort of comparison all the time. Aren't we grateful when we think of our life compared to people in countries where there isn't enough food, or inadequate healthcare, or where there is civil unrest. You think, "Thank God I was born here, and have enough food, and access to modern medicine, and there isn't revolution in the streets."
Whenever I watch something about the eras before modern medicine, when people had to undergo operations without anesthesia, or when they drilled a hole in your head to heal your illness-again, without anesthesia-I feel very grateful that I'm living in this time and not in that.
Even closer to home we think, "Thank God I don't have cancer (like so many people do)." Or "Thank God I got the raise rather than so-and-so" or "Thank God I got the girl rather than so-and-so."
A Course in Miracles takes aim at this kind of gratitude, making some very pointed remarks:
Gratitude is a lesson hard to learn for those who look upon the world amiss. The most that they can do is see themselves as better off than others. And they try to be content because another seems to suffer more than they.
The Course then offers this gentle line about such gratitude:
How pitiful and deprecating are such thoughts! For who has cause for thanks while others have less cause? And who could suffer less because he sees another suffer more?…It is insane to offer thanks because of suffering.
"Thanks because of suffering." That about sums it up. We are being thankful because someone else is suffering more than we are. In a sense, we are offering thanks because of suffering. What sort of gratitude is that?
Something is clearly wrong with this kind of gratitude. The problem, suggests the Course, is that it is rooted in comparisons. And there are two problems with comparisons:
1. Comparisons are often competitive. "I'm thankful because I'm better off" can easily be "I'm thankful because I'm better." I'm thankful because I'm on top; because I won and you lost.
2. Comparisons automatically imply separation. It is impossible to be thankful because you are better off than someone and simultaneously be aware of your unity with that person. Lesson 195 makes this point,
Let us not compare ourselves with them, for thus we split them off from our awareness of the unity we share with them, as they must share with us.
Thus, if our gratitude is based on comparisons, then it separates us from people and puts them beneath us. Here is what the Course says about such gratitude:
Love makes no comparisons. And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love.
A gratitude based on comparisons is an unloving gratitude. Yet, as this passage says, real gratitude must be joined with love. It must be loving. How, then, can we find a truly loving gratitude, a gratitude that makes no comparisons whatsoever?
The simple answer is that we need to give thanks for something that benefits everyone. We need to give thanks for blessings that everyone shares. There are three forms of this kind of gratitude that I want to share with you.
1. We thank God for blessings bestowed on everyone
I'll talk about three kinds of gratitude to God for blessings bestowed on everyone.
First, we can be grateful that He created us one with all living things. Our lesson says this:
We thank our Father for one thing alone; that we are separate from no living thing, and therefore one with Him
If, as I'm sure we all believe, God created us one with everyone, that's something to be thankful for.
Second, we can be grateful that that He offers a way out of the pain to everyone. In our lesson, the Course says, "It is…insane to fail in gratitude to One Who offers the certain means whereby all pain is healed, and suffering replaced with laughter and with happiness." To put this more plainly, no matter who you are, no matter how dire your situation appears to be, God is always holding open a doorway out of the pain. That, too, is cause for thanks.
Third, we can be grateful that He has given us everything. Again, a quote from Lesson 195:
We have been given everything. If we refuse to recognize it, we are not entitled therefore to our bitterness, and to a self-perception which regards us in a place of merciless pursuit, where we are badgered ceaselessly, and pushed about without a thought or care for us or for our future.
We all can probably relate to the last lines of this quote. We so often do feel mercilessly pursued, badgered ceaselessly, and pushed about without a care for us or our future. Yet, says the Course, this is what happens when we push the gifts of God away. He has given us everything. He is always giving us everything. It is there, just for the taking. If we refuse to accept His gifts, that is not His fault. That does not entitle us to bitterness. We still have cause for gratitude because He has given us everything.
Notice we aren't thanking Him for things specific to our lives, but for general things. In essence, we are thanking God that beyond appearances, there is a reality that is purely good, a reality that is always watching over us and offering us its gifts, that is always holding open a doorway that leads out of the pain, and that is holding out these blessings to everyone. In essence, we are thanking God for the nature of reality. Not because we have two cars in our garage while our neighbor has only one.
2. We are thankful for everyone
This lesson says,
Gratitude goes hand in hand with love, and where one is the other must be found.
You can't have love without gratitude, and I think somewhere inside we all know this. How can you say to someone, "When I think of you and your presence in my life, I feel so deeply ungrateful, but I really love you"? We know from experience, I think, that love and gratitude go together. If you are really deeply in love with someone, your love is simultaneously gratitude, isn't it? The two feelings are inseparable.
We know what it means to be grateful for certain people, but how can we be grateful to everyone? How can we be grateful to those who attack us or ignore us? The Course teaches, as many traditions do, that there are two elements in people: the outer body and personality, which is often difficult to love, and the divine light in each of us, which the Course sees as the true Self. If we can overlook the outer appearance and see past it to this divine light, it can make us indescribably happy. Because of that light, we can be profoundly grateful to each person.
The Course even lists those we are meant to be grateful to:
And let your gratitude make room for all who will escape with you; the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss or feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and the path of death. All these go with you.
Can you imagine feeling truly grateful to all these people? Not just your friends, but even "those who walk the way of hatred and the path of death"? Can you imagine how happy you'd be if you were grateful for everyone?
3. We see the specific blessings in our life as disclosures of a generous reality
I've been talking about a kind of non-specific, all-encompassing gratitude, that is not based on specific occurrences in our lives. This naturally brings up the question "Is it all right to be grateful for specific things that happen in our lives?" Because, of course, these are the things that most naturally inspire our gratitude.
I think has to be all right to be grateful for these things, and I think it is all right. But only if we look at them in a particular way. Rather than seeing them as a case of "Thank God I'm better off" and doing our end-zone victory dance, we need to see this blessing in our lives as a disclosure of a truly generous reality. We need to think, "This is a little ray of the light that God is shining on everyone all the time. It's just up to us to let it in."
I think the Course would also have us focus not so much on external or material blessings, but on internal and interpersonal blessings. In other words, we should be grateful for the inner progress we've made along the path to God, for our inner breakthroughs. And we should be grateful for the love that passes between ourselves and others, the love that we receive and the love that we give. These things should be the focus of our gratitude. For, in the end, long after the material gains have passed away, these blessings remain.
All right, let's take some time and practice this kind of gratitude that I've been talking about, this gratitude without comparisons.
Exercise in gratitude
Please close your eyes and get comfortable.
Begin by thinking of a beautiful moment you've had,
When, just for a moment, nothing came to interrupt your peace,
When you were certain you were loved and safe,
When, for a moment, everything seemed OK, or even better than OK.
Maybe it was a moment of genuine love with another person.
Maybe it was a spiritual experience you had in meditation and prayer.
Maybe it was an exalted moment in nature.
Feel your gratitude for this moment.
Say "thank you" to God.
Imagine that this moment is your best window onto the nature of reality.
Behind the challenging appearances, this is what's it's really all about.
This experience is your best window onto the nature of God,
…onto your own true nature,
…onto your destiny,
…onto the true nature of everyone and everything.
Seeing this experience as the window onto reality, let yourself be truly grateful.
You're not just being grateful for this experience,
You're being grateful for the reality it discloses.
Bask in the experience of being grateful to reality itself.
Because reality has no limits
Take the limits off of your gratitude.
Feel it expand
Realize that as it expands, it heals.
For gratitude is a healing power.
As your gratitude grows, it sweeps up everyone with you,
Drawing all of you closer to reality.
And let your gratitude make room for all who will escape with you;
the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid,
and those who mourn a seeming loss or feel apparent pain,
who suffer cold or hunger,
or who walk the way of hatred and the path of death.
All these go with you
Being aware of all these going with you,
Be grateful to them, as they are grateful to you.
Don't compare yourself with them.
Love makes no comparisons.
The same beautiful divine light exists in all of them.
Know that you all are one,
One family joined in gratitude to God.
Spend a few moments in this feeling of gratitude.
This is true Thanksgiving.