Happy Thanksgiving Week! Everyone is talking about my favorite things this week: Gratitude. But I actually want to talk about the thing I consider the precursor to gratitude: Appreciation.
I have heard and read a lot of spiritual teachers from many different backgrounds say something to this effect: if you can get your mind/attitude/energy into a mode of appreciation, you can change your life because then you start to change how you perceive your life. Teachers from all walks of life say: appreciation is a precursor to gratitude, and gratitude is a precursor to love.
A patron recently called my attention to this passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which we see this rare attitude of appreciation illuminated:
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers[b] approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’[c] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Ten are healed. One expresses appreciation. And I get the sense that when Jesus says “your faith has made you well” he means more than just physical wellness. I have a hunch that Jesus is acknowledging this attitude of gratitude to be a deeper inroad to wholeness; and that, somehow, appreciation is a bold exercise of faith. But here’s a thing I notice: to appreciate something, we first have to be paying attention to it. And attention is a costly thing - it takes intention and practice and deep looking. It takes what many spiritual teachers call Mindfulness.
In her book _Grateful_, Diana Butler Bass says, “Gratitude is not only an emotion; it is something we do. It is like tending a garden. It takes planting and watering and weeding. It takes time and attention. It takes learning. It takes routine. But, eventually, the ground yields, shoots come forth, and thanksgiving blooms.”
I wonder if all ten of those ex-lepers felt gratitude, but only one had any experience with doing gratitude? And if the teachers are right and the roadmap looks like this: (Attention → Appreciation → Gratitude → Love), then what does that mean for how we go about cultivating love and loving action in our lives? It’s a pretty good question, I think. Here’s a prayer for the roadmap:
God, as we seek to live lives of intentional love,
We acknowledge the importance of paying attention
To the deep self,
To the external lesson,
To the need and the want,
To the fulfillment and the calling,
To the disease and the healing,
To the existence and the blessing.
We are learning how to cultivate and grow love and loving action:
Starting with attention and observation,
Moving into appreciation and thankfulness,
Letting gratitude shift us into love.
We know that love is the foundation of the universe -
That the deepest particle,
The inmost kernel,
The alpha and the omega, is love.
But sometimes, in the midst of everything happening to us,
Love is kind of hard to get to.
So we are learning to start somewhere even simpler:
By paying attention,
By offering appreciation,
By letting appreciation lead to gratitude.
And we know that if we can get in gratitude’s groove and vicinity
It can show us the way to love,
Even in murky waters,
Even in complicated situations.
So, boldly, resisting the voices that tell us to duck and run,
We do our first act of faith,
Which is to appreciate even the meagerest of blessings,
And offer praise and thanksgiving. Amen