The second movement of the Examen is Gratitude. My understanding of gratitude has shifted over the years. I have become aware of the tendency that we have to see God as a sort of divine vending machine. My gratitude used to come from those answers to prayer that I could clearly see around me. There is nothing wrong with being grateful in those situations, but I have come to see that the Examen’s call to gratitude speaks of something deeper than thanking God for giving me what I asked for.
The Street Psalms Community offers these words for the Gratitude Movement:
We give thanks. The deepest form of gratitude we can offer is our own joy. We share it with you because in our greatest longings and our deepest desires, we recognize that your presence is the substance of all that we hope for. Our deepest desire is your delight. Our greatest longings are already YES in you.
There is an old saying that gets used often when speaking about God. I am not sure who said it first, but it goes something like this: “Maybe the journey, not the destination, is the point of it all.” Like most things that sound very wise, 10 people can interpret this a million different ways. But I watched a movie last night that really brought that quote to life for me. The movie is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Walter is a day dreaming, cowardly, and obsessively reliable person who misplaces the most important photo of his career at LIFE Magazine. He spends the next several scenes going through epic adventures in an effort to track down the photographer and find the photo in order to save his job and reputation. He fails miserably and loses his job as it turns out that he had the photo with him all along, but had thrown away the wallet the photographer put it in.
You would think that this failure would completely undo Walter, and yet it seems that the adventure itself had unlocked this inner reality for him that had previously been hidden beneath the layers of cowardice and reliability. When Walter finds out his Mom had taken his wallet out of the trash, giving him access to the photo he had traveled across the world and through epic dangers to find, he simply turns it in to his former bosses without the slightest desire to see it.
He embarked on his journey thinking that the photo was the point. He would certainly have been grateful for that photo had it shown up on day 1. Instead it seems that Walter discovered that the inner truth the journey unlocked was infinitely more valuable than any photo could ever be. The journey, not the object of his pursuit, unlocked a deeper sense of gratitude.
Sometimes movies do a fantastic job of creatively pointing to deep truths within life. This movie offers a creative view of the gratitude St. Ignatius is pointing us toward with this movement. Our temptation might be to focus all of our gratitude on what we have accomplished or what God has “given” us. The recognition of God’s presence as the substance of all that we hope for invites us to a sort of gratitude that goes deeper and acknowledges that God’s greatest gift to us is already at the heart of who we are. This type of gratitude is a way of being rather than a simple “Thank You.” It has the power to transform the way we see ourselves and the world around us. When this happens we can take a cue from Ben Stiller’s character and allow who we have always been to pierce through the exterior of who we think we are.
I will again leave you with a couple of questions from the Street Psalms community…
1. What can we give thanks for?
2. How are we being called to trust our deepest desires?
Did you miss the first blog of the series? No worries. Just click here.