The Great Gesture That Unites Us

Brother David Steindl-Rast

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I recognize, I acknowledge, I am grateful; in French these three concepts are expressed by one term: “Je suis reconnaissant.”

I recognize the special quality of this joy: It is a joy freely granted to me as a favor. I acknowledge my dependence, freely accepting as a gift what only another, as other, can freely give to me. And I am grateful, allowing my emotions fully to taste and to express the joy I have received, and thus I make it flow back to its source by returning thanks. You see that the whole person is involved when we give thanks from our hearts. The heart is that center in which the human person is one: The intellect recognizes the gift as gift; the will acknowledges my dependence; the emotions, like a sounding board, give fullness to the melody of this experience.

It may be that my intellect insists on suspicion and does not allow me to recognize any favor as favor. Selflessness can not be proved. Reasoning about another person’s motives can only take me to the point where mere intellect must yield to faith, to trust in the other, which is a gesture no longer of the intellect alone but of the whole heart. Or it may be that my proud will refuses to acknowledge my dependence on another, thus paralyzing the heart before it can rise to give thanks. Or it may be that the scar tissue of hurt feelings no longer allows my full emotional response. My longing for pure selflessness, for true gratitude, may be so deep and so much in discrepancy with what I have experienced in the past that I give in to despair. And who am I anyway? Why should any selfless love be wasted on me? Am I worthy of it? No, I am not. To face this fact, to realize my unworthiness, and yet to open myself through hope to love, this is the root of all human wholeness and holiness, the very core of the integrating gesture of thanksgiving. However, this inner gesture of gratitude can only come to itself when it finds expression.

Expression of thanks is a [...] spiral in which the giver receives thanksgiving, and so becomes receiver, and the joy of giving and receiving rises higher and higher. The mother bends down to her child in his crib and hands him a rattle. The baby recognizes the gift and returns the mother’s smile. The mother, overjoyed with the childish gesture of gratitude, lifts up the child with a kiss. There is our spiral of joy. Is not the kiss a greater gift than the toy? Is not the joy it expresses greater than the joy that set our spiral in motion?

But notice that the upward movement of our spiral signifies not only that the joy has grown stronger. Rather we have passed on to something entirely new. A passage has taken place. A passage from multiplicity to unity: we start out with giver, gift and receiver, and we arrive at the embrace of thanks expressed and thanks accepted. Who can distinguish giver and receiver in the final kiss of gratitude?

Is not gratitude a passage from suspicion to trust, from proud isolation to a humble give and take, from enslavement to false independence to self-acceptance in that dependence which liberates? Yes, gratitude is the great gesture of passage.

And this gesture of passage unites us. It unites us as human beings, for we realize that in this whole passing universe we humans are the ones who pass and know that we pass. There lies our human dignity. There lies our human task. The task of entering into the meaning of this passage (the passage which is our whole life), of celebrating its meaning through the gesture of thanksgiving.

Brother David is a Benedictine monk. Excerpted above from A Deep Bow.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that gratitude is the great gift of passage? Can you share a personal story of a time you found yourself in the spiral of increasing gratitude? What helps you set the spiral of increasing gratitude in motion?

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7 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jul 16, 2021 Annebe wrote:
    Being in gratefulness, everything becomes a gift. Everything open up!

    The gift of receiving freely was a wonderful insight for me today. Allowing the passage of the gift to go through me.

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    On Jul 15, 2021 SANDIP SHETA wrote:
    At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

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    On Jul 13, 2021 Jo wrote:
    I am sooooooo grateful for YOU! Thanks be to God! Pure gift from my Father in Heaven are you, I believe! Amen:)

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    On Jul 13, 2021 Shane K. Floyd, Ph.D. wrote:
    Brother David recognizes the symbolic nature of recognition, acknowledgement, and gratefulness. I admired his espousal of these concepts. It reminded me of the importance in which we demonstrate these guided principles. For me, humility serves as my common thread in life. Humility is that part which could lead us to recognition, acknowledgement, and gratefulness. It reflects an outward sign of an inward grace for those who come in contact with us. It opens the door for those blessings being visible within us. We exemplify what we are truly created to be. We are all "wonderfully made" recognizing, acknowledging and demonstrating gratefulness as often as we can. Our lives become the balance beam of these principles where we seek guidance to exert them each day. 

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    On Jul 13, 2021 Muriel wrote:
    I hope that Brother David does not mean that we are unworthywhen he says, “Am I worthy of selfless love? No, I am not.” What I hope he means is only that we don’t BELIEVE we are worthy. Because EVERY ONE OF US is worthy of selfless love—God’s, and our fellow human’s.

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    On Jul 11, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    You are what life does to you plus what you do with life. You are the reality you are given plus your choices in dealing with it. You are the hand you are dealt plus how you play it. Gratitude is a great gift of passage from not knowing that to knowing that. I've been in the spiral of increasing gratitude for a long time. I am grateful for what I have been given, with which I could have done more and better, and I am grateful for what I have done. What helps me set the spiral of increasing gratitude in motion is knowing myself, knowing what life gave me and knowing what I can do with what I've been given. Digesting Meister Eckhart's statement, "If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, it is enough," helps me. Experiencing the satisfaction of gratitude also helps. Gratitude is its own reward.

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    On Jul 9, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    I feel deeply grateful to Brother David Steindl-Rastfor giving the great gift of passage. I consider offering this thought provoking passage itself a great gift of passage. It has the three intertwined core concepts of grateful living:: I recognize, I acknowledge, I am grateful. These three concepts create a steady and strong foundation for going through passages of life. Living this way I feel the unity within me and between people in my life regardless of apparent differences like Brother David says unity in multiplicity, oneness in manyness, where giving becomes receiving and receiving becomes giving, an experience of oneness.To me this is living spiritually, living inpure heart and relating to others from pure heart. And this an ongoing journey that creates loving joy and deep fulfillment. I have been blessed to have many people in my family and many others out of my family who take care of me lovingly regardless of age, gender, nationality and religion. It feels like living in a s... [View Full Comment] I feel deeply grateful to Brother David Steindl-Rastfor giving the great gift of passage. I consider offering this thought provoking passage itself a great gift of passage. It has the three intertwined core concepts of grateful living:: I recognize, I acknowledge, I am grateful. These three concepts create a steady and strong foundation for going through passages of life. Living this way I feel the unity within me and between people in my life regardless of apparent differences like Brother David says unity in multiplicity, oneness in manyness, where giving becomes receiving and receiving becomes giving, an experience of oneness.To me this is living spiritually, living inpure heart and relating to others from pure heart. And this an ongoing journey that creates loving joy and deep fulfillment.
    I have been blessed to have many people in my family and many others out of my family who take care of me lovingly regardless of age, gender, nationality and religion. It feels like living in a spiritual community or an ashram. Such experiences happen not on Thanksgiving Day. Everyday becomes a Thanksgiving Day.
    As I have mentioned before life is a spiritual journey. In my journey of life there have been times when I have stepped out of the spiritual path and I have hurt me and some people close to me. Recognizing and acknowledgingmy wrong doing and learning from such experiences has always helped me. Practicing Mindfulness Meditation regularly and living mindfully and relating to others unselfishly and compassionately also reinforces my spiritual way of living.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'




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