Given and Received
In one of my past lives, as member of a parish liturgy committee, it was my task for a number of years to round up twelve people willing to participate in the foot washing ritual of the Holy Thursday Mass. It turned out to be a very difficult job. I can say without exaggeration, that it took months to find twelve souls, male or female, young or old, religious or lay person who would give their consent. The issue in many cases was that of their sense of unworthiness.
Here is a photo of that memorial of Jesus's last supper with his disciples; a remembrance of his last gesture; a striking visual representation of love and service. The ritual is being performed by the prioress of our monastery. Perhaps this picture moves me so because I know the personalities of those involved. Our superior is kneeling at the feet of her sister in community. One of the foundresses of this house has put on an apron and given herself to the task. She has been a Redemptoristine for over 55 years. We all look up to her. The sister whose foot is being so tenderly cared for is known for generous service in community; no task is too lowly or menial; the needs of the other are always considered first. The one whose rightful place is at the head of the table has come down to its foot as servant. And the one who naturally gravitates to the foot of the table is allowing herself to be served. Gratitude being given and received.
I have been impressed to hear my son and daughter-in-law say "Thank you" to their children so frequently. I don't know how often I thanked my son when he was a child. I do not remember hearing these words often in my own childhood. We've not talked about it but I gather that this new generation has adopted the practice as an effort to give good example and because they know the power of positive re-inforcement. But at an even deeper level this is most valuable communication heart to heart.
For some adults gratitude is hard to offer and hard to receive. I was taught a lesson years ago by a friend who brought me up short saying, "Do you realize that you never accept a compliment without responding with at least one reason, if not more, about why you do not deserve it? It is very rude because it tells me that my appreciation is really poor judgement." I still fail in this but most of the time I remember her well-taken point.
It is as if human gratitude, owed to or received from another is a realm into which some simply cannot enter. I have found it helpful to remember that it is a foreign country to them. Sincere, face to face, square in the eye gratitude is far too intimate an expression of emotion, far too connecting - too close for comfort.
Expression of human gratitude may also frighten due to the implication of personal indebtedness or obligation implied. It can offend stubborn adherence to a rugged individualism, that personal autonomy which is to be defended at all cost. To accept gratitude is also to suggest that one must take the needs of others into consideration. Conversely, to extend gratitude may imply a personal need which we cannot bear to admit. Reluctance on either part may also be due to a subtle fear of blurring the boundaries between levels of authority in families, in the workplace, within organizations and even religious communities. And sometimes the sheer emotion of profound gratitude can be a fearsome prospect to the highly controlled individual. Such emotion brings to the surface a swirling, living interior reality that they have been taught to keep at bay and learned to suppress.
All of this came to me today as I read the last pages of Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth - Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. He speaks of awakened doing, new vocabulary for what many have come to call contemplative action or conscious living. Tolle speaks of three modalities for awakened doing: acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm. He goes on to say, "Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. You need to be vigilant to be sure that one of them operates whenever you are engaged in doing anything at all - from the most simple task to the most complex. If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others." It seems to me that conscious cultivation of the abiltiy to give and receive gratitude would go a long way to promote the presence of these modalities within me. Tolle would say that these modalities have an energy of their own. Not only a positive energy for the person in whom they reside but a positive energy that flows out of the person into their environments and realtionships. This awareness, this consciousness, is an effort to love and to respond to love. "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him." 1 Corinthians 2:9