May we be blessed with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May we be blessed with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May we be blessed with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that we may reach out a hand to provide comfort and offer peace.
And may we be blessed with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so we may do what others claim cannot be done.
This invocation is a personal favorite and has been part of our holiday tradition for more years than I can remember. Despite my deep appreciation for the sentiment -- the admonishment to remain aware, open, and responsive to pain and suffering -- I have an intense wariness of the word “Blessed.”
The notion of being blessed carries subtle undertones of “deserving” or “worthiness,” and I’ve lived long enough and hard enough to know that’s where the dragons hide.
What, then, happens to blessed when tragedy strikes? When health fails, career dissolves, access denied? If one day I’m hit by a rogue bus while crossing the street, does this mean I’m suddenly UnBlessed? Cursed?
Terrible, random things happen every day. My friend - also a physician - once quipped that, “being a doctor is an independent risk factor for terrible outcomes.” A few years later, we diagnosed my eldest with leukemia. A few years after that, this same friend died from cancer.
Were we UnBlessed?
Blessed lands as something that happens to us, and perhaps my disquiet stems from the lack of choice implied. This is where Gratitude triumphs.
As we move through this season where talk of blessings abound, it may be worth reflecting on what being blessed implies, and taking a closer look at the abundant, well-researched benefits of adopting a formal practice of Gratitude, instead.
The psychological and emotional benefits of cultivating a gratitude practice as part of health and spiritual discipline is extensive. Gratitude grounds us in the present, helping our nervous system rest and reset. Studies show that even the act of trying to think of something to be grateful for leads to improvements in mood, well-being, and to long-term, measurable decreases in depression and anxiety.
With time and practice, we begin to notice that existential gratitude, or Gratefulness, can permeate our lives through both joy and adversity, seeking the hidden benefit and the opportunities for growth in everything.
Gratefulness is a choice, and stepping into choice always improves wellbeing. With this in mind, perhaps the invocation can become an invitation to choose gratitude:
May we have gratitude for our discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships. A reminder to seek depth, sit with complexity and nuance, guard against intellectual or emotional laziness, and hold space for lasting, meaningful relationships in every part of life.
May we have gratitude for our anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation. This anger, well-directed, can be sharp as a scalpel, and just as useful in the hands of a skilled practitioner. Rather than fearing, suppressing, or dampening our anger at injustice and oppression, choosing Gratitude us to allows convert this high-energy emotion into a powerful tool of change.
May we have gratitude for the tears we shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war. This is the very heart of a healer, and central to our humanity. May we always be grateful for our compassion and capacity to empathize with those who suffer.
May we have gratitude for remaining foolish enough to believe we can make a difference in this world. Not naïve. Not grandiose. Grateful for the knowledge that what we do matters enough to keep going. Keep striving. Keep creating. Keep hoping. Keep connecting.
Gratitude puts us in choice.
Gratitude helps us to remember.
To remember all we have. All our dreams. All we’ve overcome. All the possibilities.
And what if gratitude is also a threshold to cross? What if gratitude is that liminal space between who we are and who we want to be?
What if Gratitude is the key to falling recklessly in love with our lives?
It has been so hard for so long. Exhausting, dark, and scary, too.
And it may feel a little … disrespectful? irreverent? … to dive into gratitude, as though we are dismissing or denying the pain and suffering.
I believe there is a gift - and growth - in learning to hold and honor the friction that exists between pain and joy. Between grief and gratitude.
Gratitude is recognition and appreciation of both hard-earned and unearned gifts, of the little moments that comprise our days, and the people who make it a bit brighter.
Gratitude builds resilience and is a bridge to both radical acceptance and a degree of serenity in our stochastic reality.
The floor is not stable, and we waste life trying to wrest sense from the randomness, seeking patterns and making predictions amid pain and suffering and clamor. There is power and healing in the choice to be grateful. And though we can’t choose what happens to us, there always is choice in how we respond.
In the end, we are our choices; I’m grateful for that hard-earned wisdom.
I'm filled with gratitude for the tremendous collateral beauty that exists amidst the pain and harshness of times such as these. For family and friends and colleagues who remind me the joy and light are always there, too. For science. For irreverent laughter. For the power of shared grief. For the ascendency of connection.
May the peace of the season be with each of you.
Be a lamp, a lifeboat or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd…