| Aug 28, 2012
Early one morning this summer I was sitting in our den, looking out the window, enjoying the activities in the backyard. I had just put out new birdfeeders and the seeds had attracted an amazing variety of birds -- as well as a few squirrels. As I sat there, the morning light slowly brightening the yard, in the company of some of God’s most beautiful,
delightful and funny creatures (squirrels are nature’s clowns), I began to pray.
My morning prayers follow a simple pattern, borrowed generally from St. Ignatius of Loyola. One of the basic principles of St. Ignatius’s approach to prayer (and, indeed, to his understanding of all of life) is gratitude. As Ignatius said, “All the things in this world are gifts from God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.”
The first step in prayer, following his pattern, is to be still and engage in thanksgiving to God.
That morning, a sense of gratitude came as easily as breath to my body. This is not the case every day, I am ashamed to say. There are days when, going through the exercises prescribed by Ignatius, my spirit feels stiff and achy, and a sense of gratitude comes grudgingly. My prayers of thanks on such mornings can be pretty wooden. But that morning, gratitude flooded my consciousness, and left me feeling … well … overwhelmingly grateful, grateful that God’s grace and love can break through and remind us that God has given us all things and that all things God has given us are good.
We all know prayers of St. Francis, and these, especially “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace,” are among the most beloved prayers in the Christian treasury of devotion. I am just now discovering the prayers of Ignatius of Loyola, and I am finding them particularly powerful and challenging these days. This summer I have come to appreciate the following prayer:
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
My memory, my understanding
And my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.”
Gratitude really is nothing less than a proper and proportional response to life. It is the starting point for a life well lived, as St. Ignatius understood.
This is true not only of gratitude to God, but to other people.
Someone has said that the most powerful position anyone can assume in any group is the position to say, “Thank you.” This may be true, but if it is, it has the potential to redefine power in our culture, to flip conventional notions of power on its head.
It occurs to me that the capacity to say, “Thank you,” is most like the power to bless. In a society where cursing has become almost a national pastime, I cannot imagine a more appropriately countercultural action for followers of Jesus of Nazareth than this, to live our lives in a posture of thanksgiving, expressing gratitude to God and to others, taking every opportunity we can to bless others.
Today, I am thankful for my colleagues at Louisville Seminary who edited and published our weekly “Thinking Out Loud” blog this summer. I want to thank Carolyn Cardwell, Bridget Couch, Susan DiLuca and Sue Garrett, in particular, for all they did. I especially want to thank my friends and colleagues who contributed a series of fascinating and stimulating blogs over the past several weeks: Gene March, Pam Kidd, Bridgett Green, Shannon Craigo-Snell, Heather Thiessen, Lewis Brogdon, Terry Muck, Cheri Harper, Cheryl Goodman-Morris and Kathryn Johnson. Thank you all for providing us with your insights.
If you missed any of these blogs, I encourage you to check out our archives and retrieve them.
Finally, I want to thank you, the readers of “Thinking Out Loud.” Thank you for tuning-in each week. Thank you particularly for the fascinating reflections and replies you have sent me during the first two years of our project. I promise you that we will do the best we can to make sure that “Thinking Out Loud” is worth your time.
 This paraphrase of “The first principle and foundation” of St. Ignatius is attributed to David L. Fleming, S.J.