Yesterday was stressful. I got up early and went to get lab tests, in preparation for a medical check-up. I also took my car to Santa Rosa to check the suspension system; these roads really wreck the shocks and other parts of the car. Not too much damage – a belt and two parts. Only about $20.
Then, since I had bought new tires on Friday, I took the car to a different shop to balance the wheels and get the car aligned. Well, there was more to be done, partly because of some worn out parts, partly because the alignment resulted in some damage. I dropped the truck off about 12:30; it was finished at 5:45 pm. Several parts had to be replaced, to the tune of about $185.
After I dropped the truck off, I went to the doctor’s office for my regular three month check up. I was there until about 4 PM, waiting. But that was not the worst. My chlorestol and triglycerides had gone through the roof! My doctor listened to my heart and had this worried look on her face. She recommended that I get up early and have an electrocardiogram the next morning. There was something goofy about my heart rhythm.
Last night, after a long and rather stressful day, I wrote a short note on Facebook, asking for prayers.
More than 75 comments, most with a word of prayer and concern. More than 135 “liked” the post.
I feel myself bathed in prayer. Such love and care from others, even from as far away as Brazil and the Philippines. I feel the presence of God’s loving care from these people – and from many others.
A few weeks ago, Gloria Steinem is reported to have said:
“gratitude never radicalized anyone”
I beg to disagree.
Gratitude has opened my heart – not once, but innumerable times.
Gratitude is the recognition that all is gift and that God and others provide this.That doesn’t mean that gratitude is tied to good fortune, to money, to success.
I clearly remember my months in El Salvador in 1992, helping in the parish of Suchitoto. I spent much of the week in the farthest part of the parish, staying in the house of Esteban and Rosa Elbia, and the six or eight children still at home.
It was a poor house, fashioned out of the stalls of a former cattle shed. Esteban and other families had moved into this former hacienda a few months before the end of the Salvadoran civil war.
Yet almost every morning, when I woke up in my hammock in the house of the Clavel family, my first thought was “Gracias” – thanks!
Here I was in a poor community, without water, with minimal food (and with too much salt in the beans), with streams of rainwater entering the house and flowing under my hammock. But I felt gratitude.
Partly is was gratitude for being able to share in the lives of these people, to see their faith, their resilience, their commitment to God and to a new El Salvador. Most of the people were sympathetic to the Salvadoran guerrillas. Several were former guerillas and a few, like Esteban, had been catechists who had escaped death threats and death attempts.
But here I was among them, helping train catechists, visiting communities to see how the faith life was being nurtured, swimming in a nearby stream with the kids, occasionally helping with the work – including a few days helping build the trench for a water line.
Gratitude was my reaction.
And here too I find myself grateful. It’s central to my experience, visiting the communities, training catechists and working in other areas of faith formation, accompanying a new association of small coffee growers, assisting at Mass and at other sacraments, bringing Communion to the sick.
But it is also my reaction when I encounter people who care for the elderly and the sick – including a young man who cared for his aunt who just died and still cares for his grandmother; when I talk with one of the Communion ministers who walks hours to get to meetings and to share the Eucharist in other communities; when I listen to the struggles as well as the successes of people.
Gratitude is central for me as it was for Dorothy Day who wrote in From Union Square to Rome:
Gratitude brought me into the Church and that gratitude grows, and the first word my heart will utter when I face God is 'Thanks.'
It is central to the recent experience of Robert George. Though I do not hold many of his views, he reflected how he was flooded with so many messages of prayer and concern when he was hospitalized.
“My reaction to all of those was pure, unadulterated, overwhelming gratitude – gratitude to God, not only for my survival, but for the good people, who, moved by their devotion to Him, offered their prayers for me. And gratitude to the, Boundless gratitude to them.”
“Because of their prayers and God’s goodness, I now understand every day as a gift.”“So don’t tell me that gratitude never radicalized someone. Every morning when I brush my teeth and look at the guy in the mirror, I see someone who was radicalized by gratitude.”
All is gift.
As Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it in We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (p. 110):
The experience of gratuitousness is the space of encounter with the Lord. Unless we understand the meaning of gratuitousness, there will be no contemplative dimension in our life. Contemplation is not a state of paralysis but of radical self-giving… In the final analysis, to believe in God means to live out our life as a gift from God and to look upon everything that happens in it as a manifestation of this gift.
It is because of the centrality of gratefulness and the need to see how God continues to fill us with gifts, the first step of the Ignatian examen is asking for God’s grace. In gratitude, we recall the good things that God has done for us during the day.
In a world wrought with divisiveness, violence, suffering, and pain, perhaps gratitude is the most important lesson we can learn.
Follow up on my health
I went to Santa Rosa this morning for an electrocardiogram in the Hospital. The results indicate an irregular heart beat - asymptomatic ventricular extrasystolis (or something like that.) The doctor gave me a medicine and told me to check my blood pressure and let her know in a week. If all is going well, I will go back to her office for a check up next month.
Follow up on the Clavel family
Saturday one of the little girls I knew in the family made her final profession as a Franciscan Sister in Guatemala. Earlier this month, the youngest son was married. Sadly, Esteban did not live to see these blessed events. He died a few years ago with complications from chagas.