Radical Gratitude

Awareness of the divine begins with wonder.  It is the result of what man does with his higher incomprehension.  Radical amazement has a wider scope than any other act of man.  While any act of perception or cognition has as its object a selected segment of reality, radical amazement refers to all of reality; not only to what we see, but also to the very act of seeing as well as to our own selves, to the selves that see and are amazed at their ability to see.  The sense for the “miracles which are daily with us,” the sense for the “continual marvels” is the source of prayer.  There is no worship, no music, no love, if we take for granted the blessings or defeats of living.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man

First . . . take a few minutes to watch the following: http://youtu.be/YRnHsG7WxI4

I recently came across this short video entitled Gratitude from filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg.  If I were looking to incorporate something from social media into our daily liturgy,  I’d be tempted to utilize this youtube selection because it captures the significance of wonder and thankfulness, which is the essence of Jewish prayer.

The playbook of tradition we know as the siddur (prayer book) is filled with gratitude about the most ordinary of miracles: a prayer upon awakening, a blessing for functional body plumbing, a series of benedictions thanking God for the ability to open our eyes, get out of bed, and put on our clothing.  Jewish  law also mandates the recitation of berakhot  (blessings) before and after food and drink of every kind, and has even established benedictions for seeing a rainbow, hearing thunder, witnessing a shooting star, or seeing the ocean for the first time in a long while.   To view this as the product of a religious tradition overburdened with ritual minutiae misses the point — it isn’t about how the poetry of being furnishes an excuse for the recitation of a formula, but how a liturgy of gratitude can help us overcome the numbing effect of the humdrum, the taking for granted that coats our capacity for amazement with indifference.    The blessing isn’t the words, but our capacity to be surprised, as the philosopher Martin Buber once put it; our recognition of the sublime poetry of God’s world in real time.

Those who cultivate the path of wonder in the here and now are often the people most aware of life’s fragility, its ephemeral quality.  The sunset we contemplate in awe cannot be frozen in time; the sky darkens and the colors fade.  We may yet be privileged to witness an incredible sunset tomorrow, but it will somehow be different.  This sunset, this day, this moment will never ever come again.  They cannot be held, only savored and released, perhaps remembered.  The truly grateful person may sometimes be wistful, but isn’t bitter at an inability to hold on to what was never his to begin with.  Instead, in each and every moment lived in deep appreciation there is a glimpse of the Eternal, an inexhaustible treasure trove of a world  of possibility renewed each day, each hour, each second . . . in essence, renewed for us each and every time we stop and allow ourselves to be amazed at the mystery of existence.  To utter a blessing  at being is just a gentle reminder that our very being is itself a blessing.

A few lines from William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey come to mind . . .

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy 
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
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