Prayers of Gratitude

Swan swimming in lake

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by Donna Sinclair

I have a scattered approach to prayer. I think I am like many people; I mostly pray when I am in distress.

I am good at praying at three o’clock in the morning when I wake up worried about one child or another. I am pretty good at praying when I am asked to do the prayers of the people in Sunday worship because that is an honour, as well as a responsibility I need to fulfill.

But I am not so good at praying at three o’clock in the afternoon on a sunny spring day when all of my children have checked in with good news and the trees are leafing out green. Yet I know that this is the very moment when I need to stop, and breathe and thank God deeply.

I am long on prayers of petition as I am “running from the neighbourhood bullies straight to God” (as the psalmist David puts it in Psalm 17). I am short on prayers of gratitude.

I picked up a new book (a gift to me) called Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. They suggest that it would be better if I took the gratitude approach. If prayers of gratitude were always close at hand, the world (whose fate is often a subject of my prayers) would begin to be healed.

One section of Active Hope tells the story of delegates from the Iroquois Confederacy to a United Nations conference in Geneva in 1977. The Haudenosaunee brought with them a statement of their values, their “Basic Call to Consciousness,” part of which reads like this:

The original instructions direct that we who walk about on the earth are to express a great respect, an affection, and a gratitude toward all spirits which create and support Life. We give a greeting and thanksgiving to the many supporters of our own lives – the corn, beans, squash, the winds, the sun. When people cease to respect and express gratitude for these many things, then all life will be destroyed and human life on this planet will come to an end.

Thirty-five years later I can hear the same heartfelt gratitude from a First Nations member of my congregation. Kimberly Robinson’s prayers of the people last Sunday were filled with powerful evocations of water and plants and the four directions – images which owe much to her Algonkian heritage. As the writers of Active Hope point out, the Haudenosaunee and other First Nations “see humans as interconnected parts of a larger web of life… Crops, trees, rivers, and the sun are respected as fellow beings in a larger community of life, and if you have this view, you don’t tear down the forests or pollute the rivers.”

When I reach back into my own ancestry, I see much the same principle at work. The Celts (my Scottish forebears) were very aware that they were dependent on a God who was completely and wholly present in our marvellous Creation. They prayed lovingly and constantly, always aware that they were surrounded by angels and always grateful for the beauty of sea and forest.

So with the examples of my ancestors and my friends before me, I am trying to become a better pray-er. This does not mean that I am giving up prayers of petition. After all, I have as a model David the psalmist talking in Psalm 17 as if God and he were buddies:

I’m staying on your trail;
I’m putting one foot
In front of the other.
I’m not giving up.
I call to you, God, because I’m sure of an answer.
So—answer! bend your ear! listen sharp!

~ Bible translation from The Message

Taking a leaf out of David’s companionable approach to God, I am trying to notice what is in front of me and then mention my happiness to my buddy, God.

Bend your ear God, I say. I see this wonderful maple tree and I rejoice. Listen sharp, God. I see a crocus, and I rejoice; I rejoice that the world has just enough carbon and oxygen in the atmosphere so that the maple tree and the crocus and I can live. I rejoice in your rain and your sun. I rejoice in Lake Nipissing and the rocky beach you have given me and Baba and our grandson to play with. I rejoice.

A little later maybe we will talk, God, about the neighbourhood bullies who are destroying your Athabasca watershed and threatening your west coast shoreline and putting your caribou, your very own frightened children, at risk.

But for right now, for all that surrounds me, for the friends I love and the community that gives me strength, for your beautiful creation, I give you thanks.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario. Her most recent book is The Long View: An Elderwoman’s Book of Wisdom (2011).

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Categories: Daily Life, Donna Sinclair, Inspiration and Meditation, Prayer, Spiritual Growth


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