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Center for Action and Contemplation

School of Gratitude

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Brian McLaren writes of gratefulness as a primary theme of the gospels:

Jesus makes it clear that a life lived to fulfill God’s dream for creation will involve suffering. But even here, Jesus implies that there is reason for gratitude. You see it in the Beatitudes, Jesus’s eightfold way of happiness (Matthew 5:3–12). There is a blessing in poverty, he says; to the degree you miss out on the never-enough system, you partake of God’s dream. There is a blessing in the pain of loss, because in your grief you experience God’s comfort. There is blessing in being unsatisfied about the injustice in our world, he says; as God’s justice comes more and more, you will feel more and more fulfilled. . . .   

With these counterintuitive sayings and others like them, Jesus enrolls us in advanced classes in the school of gratitude. He shows us the disadvantages of advantages, and the advantages of disadvantages. He will make this paradox most dramatic through his own death; his suffering and crucifixion will eventually bring hope and freedom to all humanity, hope and freedom that could come no other way. Here is the deepest lesson of gratitude, then. We are to be grateful not just in the good times, but also in the bad times; to be grateful not just in plenty, but also in need; to maintain thankfulness not just in laughter, but also through tears and sorrow. One of Jesus’s followers says that we should even rejoice in trials, because through trials come patience, character, wisdom (James 1:2–3). And another says, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11), so he can instruct, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The words “in all circumstances” shouldn’t be confused with “for all circumstances,” of course. But neither should they be thinned to mean “in easy circumstances.” Even in pain, we can find a place of gratitude, a place where alongside the agony of loss we still count and appreciate what remains. . . .

You may lose a loved one, or facet after facet of your physical health, but you can still be grateful for what you have left. And what if you lose more, and more, and more, if bad goes to worse? Perhaps at some point, all of us are reduced to despair, but my hunch is—and I hope I never need to prove this in my own life, but I may, any of us may—having lost everything, one may still be able to hold on to one’s attitude, one’s practiced habit of gratitude, of turning to God in Job-like agony and saying, “For this breath, thanks. For this tear, thanks. For this memory of something I used to enjoy but now have lost, thanks. For this ability not simply to rage over what has been taken, but to celebrate what was once given, thanks.”


Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 59, 60.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Aaron Burden, Untitled (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Vidar Nordli-Mathisen, Laughing Nuns (detail), 2018, Italy, photograph, Unsplash. Aaron Burden, Untitled (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Thank you, Spirit, for life. Thank you for shared joy. Thank you for beauty. Amen.

Story from Our Community:

In January 2022, my wife of 47 years died from COVID-19. My grief has been unbearable at times. Some days seem like they last 10 years. I began to question my faith as my grief seemed to change into fear. What if I never see my family in eternal bliss? This was another loss for me [because] soon after I converted to Catholicism in 1998, I became an “uber-catholic” in my parish. I knew everything it seemed—but I didn’t know what I thirsted for. In my grief, I was reading the Daily Meditations when the image of a kernel of faith spoke to me. It was so powerful, I felt it put me back on track. It does not feel like I am talking myself into some “story” to feel better; rather, I it feels as though I was handed a map to help navigate the uneasy waters of life. I can hardly express my deep gratitude to Fr. Richard and CAC for what you do for us every day. Thank you, THANK YOU. —Jack C.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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