Gratefulness

george-herbert
George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

Gratefulness

By George Herbert

Thou that has given so much to me,
Give one thing more, – a grateful heart.
See how Thy beggar works on Thee
by art.

Not thankful when it pleaseth me, –
As if Thy blessing had spare days,
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

Luck and fate are not synonymous in my personal dictionary, even if they are in Websters. Luck in my book, is a belief that if I am prepared and open-minded and have a positive attitude, good things are more likely to happen than when I am not. It is the idea that we make our own luck but it is not guaranteed, there is still an element of chance and potential disappointment. Fate then, in a practical sense, is but an extension of time and a justification or excuse for what occurred. It is my fate to gain 5 lbs this Thanksgiving from all the food I will eat, but it was my good luck that I got to do it while eating all my favorite things with my favorite people.

Why explore the concepts of luck and fate on Thanksgiving?  Because I think it is an easy jumping off point to a more complex analysis of how do I give thanks in my life. Here’s how I wrap my head around the concept of being thankful versus being grateful. Thankfulness is an action intended to communicate with others my gratitude, while gratefulness is a state of mind, it is a choice, a personal theology, that can be built upon regardless of what happen’s in my life. I determine where my mind dwells and whether I focus on those things which trouble me or on those things for which I am grateful. I choose what side of the bed to get up on each morning.

I have had the good fortune to know several people during my lifetime as friends that seem  to live in a permanent state of gratefulness. I am sure they have bad days but I have never observed them having one. Their expression of gratefulness is not superficial or artificial, it is not syrupy,  nor are they verbose in their gratitude, rather it resides as a consistent deep well from which there outlook is shaped such that when they offer an opinion or observation it seems to always be shaped from within a context of gratitude.

When I meet someone with this quality, I am instantly drawn.  I am curious to get to know them better. I want to find out what good luck must have happened to them that they are so grateful.   For the two people I am thinking about specifically, I was shocked,  as I became better friends with them, to hear their personal history of challenges, tragedy, death, sickness and loss that are well beyond my own experiences. Their lives were not shaped by good fortune or luck anymore so than mine. If anything they have faced greater adversity, yet they have made a choice to find gratitude during the course of their lives, not cynicism. In both cases, they are devoutly religious. I don’t feel that belief in a Christian God is a requirement for gratitude but I have come to consider the question whether belief in ourselves is a prerequisite?

People who have a sincerity of gratitude in their perspective are like magnets. A person who exudes gratitude in a quiet, confident way has a wisdom that others seek out and want to be around, they are truly old souls. Gratitude is something everyone is inherently born with the aptitude and ability to feel, but it is a learned trait as a consistent behavior, it is a skill, in the same way that trust can be a learned trait and a skill.  Infants inherently trust their caregivers.  Lack of trust is a learned behavior based on human experience as we grow up.  The exact opposite is also true. Stephen M. R. Covey’s book the Speed of Trust, lays out a set of principles and ideas on how to increase trust. If I can build trust with another person by consciously attempting a consistent set of actions that increases the ability of another person to understand who I am and how to interact with me successfully, then why can’t I build gratitude in the same way? The answer is I can.

Giving thanks is not the same as being grateful in my mind, they are not completely interchangeable.  However, one builds upon the other.  On this Thanksgiving I will give thanks to all my loved ones for the gratitude I feel in sharing my good life. And I will remind myself to seek out gratitude as the foundation of my world view in the hope that is contagious in my thoughts and empowering.

George Herbert was born into a wealthy Welsh family and had the good fortune to attend Trinity College in Cambridge. His writing and speaking ability attracted the attention of King James I and he served in various roles as Anglican Priest and community leader.  He suffered from consumption and died young at the age of 39. His poetry was entirely religious and a complete anthology was published in the year of his death under the wonderful title The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations In Christian piety, an ejaculation, sometimes known as ejaculatory prayer or aspiration, is a very short prayer (poem) often attached as a form of pious devotion.

Herbert writes in first person from a perspective of true belief in the Anglican church’s vision of Christianity. His poetry helped shape the artistry that flourished during this period in literature that resonates to this day.

I took the liberty to share a shortened version of his poem Gratefulness above. It is one of the few poems I have memorized and I generally use it as a prayer of Thanksgiving each year.   It is the first and last stanzas of his poem. Check out his complete poem on-line if you have more interest.  Herbert, in addition to being a poet and Priest, apparently was a talented lute player and lyricist. Here’s a selection of Lute Music from that period to be a back drop for reading his sonnet below. I am particularly attracted to the lines in his sonnet:

Why are not Sonnets made of thee? and layes
Upon thine Altar burnt? Cannot thy love
Heighten a spirit to sound out thy praise
As well as any she? Cannot thy Dove
Out-strip their Cupid easily in flight?

An interesting idea – what are sonnets and all poetry made of, if they are not made of something beyond ourselves?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sonnet I

By George Herbert

My God, where is that ancient heat towards thee,
Wherewith whole showls of Martyrs once did burn,
Besides their other flames? Doth Poetry
Wear Venus livery? only serve her turn?
Why are not Sonnets made of thee? and layes
Upon thine Altar burnt? Cannot thy love
Heighten a spirit to sound out thy praise
As well as any she? Cannot thy Dove
Out-strip their Cupid easily in flight?
Or, since thy wayes are deep, and still the fame,
Will not a verse run smooth that bears thy name!
Why doth that fire, which by thy power and might
Each breast does feel, no braver fuel choose
Than that, which one day, Worms, may chance refuse?

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fourteenlines10

I am a life long proud Minnesotan, who has stopped trying to explain why he likes winter. I hope you enjoy my offbeat approach to curating a unique collection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. Fourteen lines can also be found on Facebook.

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