I have been working with a group of folks to practice gratitude as a way of life. Just everyday folks walking faith out in everyday life. We are finding it not as easy as it would seem. We discussed how so much of what happens around us could be a nagging and persistent source of challenge. Physical challenges, bouts of depression, relational and financial challenges and add to these larger global - political and environmental challenges we face collectively.
We are also exploring how certain values that are a part of our western culture greatly shape our ideas of happiness and gratitude. Some of us identified "cannibalistic capitalism" that intentionally stokes the fires of dissatisfaction to fuel increased consumption. Also, the idea of winners and losers is so entrenched in our culture. Both of these have a way of stirring discontent under the guise of motivation to produce, consume and achieve.
Life is pressurized, and it can seem as if the deck is stacked against cultivating gratitude and gladness.
Jack Gilbert's poem "A Brief Defense" presents the idea of a stubborn gladness. Gladness is a deep experience, as the fruit of the Spirit - Joy, and has its source within us. It's source is that place in us that the apostle Paul describes as Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). The place that is the core of our authentic self. It is not dependent on our next purchase of the new best doo-ma-hicky, our ability to be the strongest, fastest or smartest. Rather it as available, accessible and is as close as our hearts within us.
Maybe you can relate; this place of gladness or joy is obscured from sight because of the noisy graffiti that promises us a pseudo-joy if you buy this or win that or be faster or smarter than the next. These claims lead many to be a slave to depression, anxiety and general dis-ease. Because these noisy gimmicks tend to be so noisy, it can be very hard to hear the still small voice that calls us back to our core, our authentic self. It is, for this reason, we need to contend for gladness and practice stubborn gladness.
Stubborn in that we obstinately refuses to capitulate to the "ruthless furnace of this world." Kicking and screaming, if necessary, for the stubborn gladness in the midst of all of life - the good, bad and ugly.
In his poem, Gilbert calls us to look for wonder and its gladness wherever we find it. In the sunrise, the stripes of a tiger, the laugh of a child, a song, a piece of art, a flower or forest. We reorient the way in which we see, or we look while rooting inward to that which will genuinely satisfy. We practice a new way of being, awareness and living while resisting the pressure to succumb to this darkness.
It is in the context of our challenges that the gladness is richest- if by nothing more than contrast. Like a cold glass of water is indeed a precious gift in the parched desert! So gladness, as we discover it, is especially sweet and refreshing in the desert of the mundane or trial.
In a sense, Gilbert suggests, that it is our duty to be stubborn in our pursuit of gladness even in the midst of strife and challenge. For if we don't take the time to enjoy the good things we are in fact doing a disservice, we diminish the reality of sufferings of another. I envision this like when we are surrounded by a variety food but take it for granted and waste it. A person without food would certainly welcome our scraps as fine dining. Our lack of gladness for the food, in a sense, is insulting to those who have none.
We can cultivate stubborn life-giving gladness. Each time we choose to tenaciously seek things for which we can be grateful and allow the gladness to arise in us. Yes, sometimes this takes a lot of work. This is why we need some faithful, forgiving friends to encourage us, and for us to encourage them. Over time this precious gift finds roots deeper in our life, with roots that can sustain us with life-giving gladness in the midst of the dry desert season or life's crisis'.
Jack Gilbert's poem:
A Brief Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
- Jack Gilbert, A Brief for the Defense