For author and historian Diana Butler Bass, gratitude begins with awareness of God’s grace:
The words “gratitude” and “grace” come from the same root word, gratia in Latin. . . . “Grace” is a theological word, one with profound spiritual meaning. Grace means “unmerited favor.” When I think of grace, I particularly like the image of God tossing gifts around—a sort of indiscriminate giver of sustenance, joy, love, and pleasure. Grace—gifts given without being earned and with no expectation of return—is, as the old hymn says, amazing. Because you can neither earn nor pay back the gift, your heart fills with gratitude. And the power of that emotion transforms the way you see the world and experience life. Grace begets gratitude, which, in turn, widens our hearts toward greater goodness and love.
Bass explores the liberating nature of gratitude:
Together grace and gratitude form a different moral “equation.” The standard model of gratitude is a closed cycle of gift and return bound by social obligation and indebtedness, whereby a “benefactor,” a superior of some sort (someone wealthier, more powerful), provides a benefit for another, a “beneficiary,” a person in a state of need or trouble. In the closed cycle, the beneficiary is dependent on the benefactor in a way that feels demeaning or signals indebtedness. . . . Few want to be on the receiving end of an unequal transaction. . . .
If we change a closed system to an open one, banishing transaction and substituting grace, the picture of gratitude shifts. In the closed cycle of debt and duty, the roles of benefactor and beneficiary are static, and gifts are commodities of exchange, based in transaction and control. . . . But in an open cycle of gratitude, gifts are not commodities. Gifts are the nature of the universe itself, given by God or the natural order. Grace reminds us that every good thing is a gift—that somehow the rising of the sun and being alive are indiscriminate daily offerings to us—and then we understand that all benefactors are also beneficiaries and all beneficiaries can be benefactors. All that we have was gifted to all of us. There would be no benefactors if they were not first the recipients of grace. In other words, gifts come before givers. We do not really give gifts. We recognize gifts, we receive them, and we pass them on. We all rely on these gifts. We all share them.
This is not a fulfillment of duty or a single act of kindness, but an infinite process of awareness and responsive action. The gift structure of the universe is that of an interdependent community of nature and neighbor that extends through the ages in which we care for what was handed to us and give gifts to others as a response. This is not a closed circle of exchange; it is more like the circles that ripple across a pond when pebbles are tossed into the water.
Diana Butler Bass, Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Giving Thanks (New York: HarperOne, 2018), 19–20, 20–21.
Explore Further. . .
- Read CAC Executive Director Michael Poffenberger on CAC’s financial commitment to “living in the gift.”
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
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:
I recently had an experience that reminded me of our unseen contemplative community walking similar paths. I was walking on a new trail, a one-mile loop through thick woods. I saw many other walkers going the opposite direction—so many that I started to think that perhaps there was a rule or local custom of only walking clockwise. I was about to turn around, when I realized that there could be just as many walking in the same direction as me—ahead and behind. I immediately thought of CAC and all those reading the Daily Meditations together each morning. In leaving the narrow, dualistic teachings of my childhood, I often feel lonely when friends and family express their fear that I have left the fold and lost my salvation. Today, I want to express gratitude to all those traveling the contemplative journey, unseen yet together. —Sally L.
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.