It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
-Brother David Steindl-Rast
We want to believe that gratitude develops quite naturally. We imagine that when things are good we will instinctively feel grateful. When we are prosperous, healthy, and connected, we presume gratitude will emerge from these blessings.
Except that’s not how gratitude works.
Do you remember the last time that you actually tasted the food that placed in your mouth? Do you recall the last time that you were aware of how a simple touch may have felt to your child, partner, or friend? Day in and day out we are assaulted by so many sensory experiences that it takes tremendous effort to become aware of them. As a result, we experience daily loss. We miss opportunities to appreciate the simple blessings of our lives and world.
In the same way that we must focus our attention in order to notice the splendor of a bare tree whose branches wear casts of pure white snow, we must direct our hearts to notice the blessings in our lives for which we are grateful. Like anything else in our lives that is important to us, we must work at doing this. Noticing our gratitude is not automatic.
The rabbis teach us that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come. They imagine that life can be defined by an appreciation of how we live, not what we toil to produce and acquire. In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity (Heschel's The Sabbath).
We reclaim our dignity by realizing that we are more than our successes and acquisitions. We are also more than our problems and worries. We are living, breathing, soul filled beings with the capacity to live in harmony with humanity and our world. No matter what we have or lack, we will always “be thus.” When we pay attention to this, we begin to reveal a deep gratitude that has been buried under layers of muck. This is what we do on Shabbat. We make time to reclaim our dignity, to realize how grateful we already are, and we chew on this slowly, tasting the world-to-come.
Make time for this tonight. Come to synagogue and sing and reflect with us. An hour is all that it takes. Scoop up your kids. Take the hand of your loved one. Or come by yourself, because here in our sanctuary, you are never alone. I hope to be with you on our island of stillness this evening.