Tess Ward is a hospice chaplain and writer of prayers and liturgies. She facilitates both traditional Christian services and more personal, spiritually focussed ceremonies. Her books include The Celtic Wheel of the Year and Alternative Pastoral Prayers.
“As I end this day in your safe-keeping
I count three blessings before my sleeping”
This apparent nursery rhyme ending to each day in Celtic Wheel (of the Year – O Books 2007) derived from a dark chapter in my life when I was not feeling thankful at all. I wanted things to be different from the way they were – both the things I had control over and things that I didn’t. Because of the darkness, the love in my life became extra bright, the cherishing far stronger than it had ever been. And this instinctively spread to appreciating the canopy of the trees, the birdsong, the kindness of people, little things that happened during the day that were light peeping through the cracks in the darkness. Gratitude was not a spiritual discipline I took on because it was good for me, it became a life-saver, a way through. And when I moved on from that chapter, (not by leaving the sadness behind but I by letting it become part of me), I also inherited what had now become the natural gift of gratitude, and it has never left me.
As I say in the Introduction to the book, finding three things to say thank you for every day is easy in my experience. Others come hot on their tails and if I stopped to really think, there’d be a flood more but I’ve normally fallen asleep by then.
I later came across the words by Meister Eckhart “If the only prayer you say in your life is “thank you,” that would suffice” and I entirely agree with him. It covers everything because it removes you from the centre of the universe and acknowledges the grace we are held in every moment of our lives.
But another wise man, the poet and novelist, Patrick Kavanagh said at the end of his life: “Praise, praise, praise / The way it happened and the way it was.” This puts into sharp relief, the challenge of gratitude. This is a challenge to say whole-heartedly when we think of the difficult things life has thrown at us and harder still when we consider the far greater suffering of others, . So gratitude must be a work in progress for a lot of us. I have noticed though, that I don’t always say thank you for the good things. I can say a prayer that goes something like, “if I’d had the car and not had to waste the entire morning getting to somewhere, I’d never have had the experience of walking by the river in the rain which was good”. If I continue to practice saying thank you every day and night before I sleep, and feeling thankful for what is…….If I continue to try to let the things that I decidedly don’t feel thankful for scud around in the pending section, until they settle, if they ever do………. then one day, one day, I might be able to say Kavanagh’s good words with fulsomeness. Kavanagh, after all, spoke these words because he well knew about grappling with the power of them. He is also the man who wrote:
“Me I will throw away.
Me sufficient for the day
The sticky self that clings
Adhesions on the wings.”
– From “The Self Slaved”