November 28, 2006
When you give thanks for your life, do you offer a blanket “thank you,” or do you look at all the ways your life is blessed by people you’ve never met?
There is a comic strip called “Mutts” by Patrick McDonnell. It’s a delightful little piece in which animals have simple, humorous conversations about each other and the world. It’s almost always the last thing I read in the paper. That’s because I first read the international, national, and state news and need the relief of laughter after all that stress. Mutts just happens to be located at the end of the comics section.
Anyway, each day last week the strip illustrated a quotation of Meister Eckhart, a 14th century Christian mystic. That is, the artist used the same quote but applied different scenes to it. One day a bird was singing to welcome the rising sun. Another time a dog jumped up when the bowl of food was brought into the room. In another, a little girl is hugging the guard dog, who generally seems tough but really just wants some love. The quotation is this:
“If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice.” — Meister Eckhart
When I read this, I was reminded of a feature I wanted to include in this blog and so will start that feature today. It arises out of a ritual I have before eating breakfast each day.
I bring to the table a small bowl for cereal, the box of cereal, milk, orange juice, pills I have to take, a spoon, napkin, and the Los Angeles Times. First I glance very briefly at the homepage, take off my glasses, place one hand on the paper and the other on the bowl or the milk carton, and close my eyes. Then I begin my prayer outloud if no one is in the room, or to myself if someone is there.
I always begin with a simple “Thank you, God,” addressing my sentiment to the spirit or power that I believe supports my presence on this earth. But then I always have two more thanks. One thanks is generally influenced by something I see in the paper. The other concerns the source of my food or physical and emotional well-being.
Today, for example, when I saw a story about a mother whose little boy, one day shy of his fourth birthday, was killed in a drive-by shooting, I expressed gratitude for the people who can give her comfort. I can’t do that directly, but it’s nice to know there are people who are willing to be there for others, just as people have been there for me.
There is something in my ritual that always makes me aware of how many people contribute to my life, and to the lives of others, even though I am aware of only a very small number of them.
When I give thanks for specific things, I feel connected to the wider world more than I do when I simply say, “Thank you, God, for this food.” That isn’t a bad sentiment by itself, but I’ve often thought that we give God credit and skip over those who do the hard work that allows us to read the newspaper and eat a good breakfast. For example, my other thanks today was for the workers who pick oranges so I can have orange juice every morning.