Speaking of Gratitude

six fuzzy baby ducklings, smooth brown hen eggs, scents of cilantro, oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, lavender as you brush past the kitchen garden on the way to chapel, one giant angel trumpet opening while we watch, birdsong during meditation

Before taking off on travels again, I want to share a dream – the punchline is meant to share. 

The dream: Holy Cross monastery is undergoing a complete renovation so that nothing is in its usual place.  I’m given the task of “saying what you are grateful for” during the liturgy.  I can’t get to the monastery church the usual way – because of the complete overhaul of everything.  I’m going through the crypt, larger than in reality, full of sarcophagi.  Suddenly, out of each grave very live monks sit up grinning at me.  I laugh.  I ask, “Is it okay for me to walk through here?”  “Yes, of course,” said a Voice. “Go anywhere you like.  Just go slowly so that you know what you are really grateful for!”

Although this is a personal dream (my inner life undergoing a thorough renovation this year)  and the monastery crypt being the place I’ll be buried (not in the huge sarcophagi of the dream, but a tidy little niche for cremains in the wall), the message of the Voice is universal.  Slow down, so that you’ll know what you are really grateful for.

Each day at our mid-day meal we hold hands and say “I’m grateful for… ”  It’s hard for me to say in words what I experience in wordless, image-less forms within myself.  I’m grateful for all the things the sisters usually say; the morning’s worship, the beautiful day, community life, the extraordinary food a sister or Bill prepared – usually fresh from the garden.  One sister says every week, “I’m grateful it’s SUNDAY!”

Within those prayers I also feel gratitude from the sisters for my work in the kitchen garden and for my role in community and for making the chapel nice, and I feel their thankfulness for my appreciation of each of them.  I perceive their gratitude for me, for whatever gifts I bring to the community mix, maybe just my general goofiness.  But I’ve never felt so appreciated. 

I spend a lot of time weeding.  Singing and weeding. Gilbert and Sullivan, hymns, old folk songs, and Leonard Cohen.  I sing, “I came so far for beauty …”  I live in beauty.  Not the beauty of holiness, although hints emerge through the chant and in the cabbages and ducklings and rampant flower blossoms.  Practicing gratitude out loud helps you see holiness – just as drawing teaches you to see, and playing music teaches you to listen, and dancing teaches you to perceive space.  Gratitude teaches me to see what is there.  This life of worship and gardening slows me down and teaches me to know what to be grateful for: the simple and obvious, the subtle and hidden.  The upside down inside out Good News is rarely what you expect.

I didn’t expect to be flying to New Zealand this week.  One of the most extraordinary people I’ve known in this life has just been given a few months to live with the recurrence of an aggressive cancer.  We’ve been friends since rooming together at a summer camp when we were eighteen and nineteen.   We’re saying good-bye.  And she said something about my weeding her vegetable garden.  I feel foolish having taken so long to learn I’m loved not for accomplishments, but for general goofiness and weeding.  I’m grateful even in my foolishness.

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