Around Thanksgiving 2005 I gave a talk “On Moonwalkers and Tree Huggers” at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, a talk I wrapped up with the following advice.
And, in the words of Bishop Shelby Spong, love wastefully….
More than anything else I credit such notions for whatever genuine satisfaction I've experienced most of my adult life. It sometimes surprises detractors to discover that, in spite of harping on problems facing this sad and jubilant world, I'm a pretty happy fellow most of the time.
I'm sort of like the aging company man in Jerry Maguire, the man in the grainy black and white film clip Tom Cruise watches teary-eyed in that movie, the one who says, “I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.”
It's a kind of success that requires an attitude of gratitude. As Garrison Keillor once said on “A Prairie Home Companion,” giving thanks is the key to happiness.
Can you say, Amen, Brother? It may be impossible to say anything truer than that about happiness, so let's say it again.
Giving thanks is the key to happiness.
It's a way of affirming life, of choosing hope over despair, faith over cynicism.
Abe Lincoln, a man who suffered what we'd call clinical depression--a man who suffered cataclysms and personal tragedies and incredible stress and carried the burden of national calamity, once said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
That's not to dismiss the sufferings of friends and relations who just can't find a way to be happy. I know when I'm sick, I'm a crank. And I know the first great principle of Buddhism is that All Suffer.
Still, Buddha prescribed transcending the suffering to achieve contentment, which is akin, at least, to Lincoln's prescription to make up your mind to be happy.
For me, that's almost synonymous with counting blessings.
Listen up. I'm not saying take stock of good luck. I'm saying the trite and true, count your blessings. Luck always runs out. Blessings never do. They're found in the smallest of gestures, sensations, scenes and subjects, and often at your lowest ebb.
To assess life by starting with misfortunes is a sucker's game. There's no end to the misery you can catalogue. Personally, I've been blessed in so many ways it would be chintzy and dishonest to pretend otherwise. For the privilege of being alive, I try to start each day with an attitude of gratitude while I salute the sun. How lucky am I?
I would say, let me count the ways, but, as I told my Unitarian friends, it would be impossible. Life is such a crapshoot, it's like winning 50 million lotteries in a row to have existence at all. That's how much blessedness is required. It took all the crazy detours of history to bring my parents together. If a million different ancestors over thousands or millions of years hadn't done exactly as they did most every day of their lives—and partook of the blessings and curses of life in just the right order, down to feeling romantic or lusty in the right moments, I wouldn't be here now. If a billion bits of space debris hadn't interacted in just the right ways to send a giant meteor crashing into the earth about 65 million years ago, eradicating the dinosaurs—making way for mammals--none of us would be here. If the Big Bang (“Let there be light?”) had occurred with just a fraction of one percent more velocity, the planets and stars could not have formed. A fraction of a percent less velocity, and the whole universe would have collapsed back on itself. If seawater were 2 percent saltier, if the earth were tilted on its axis 3 degrees more, if the sun were a few miles farther off or closer in, if gravity were a few degrees stronger, we wouldn't exist.
All of these so-called coincidences don't scratch the surface of things that had to go just right to make our lives possible. We are incredibly blessed to be alive and riding this silken beast called breathing—-inhale, exhale--from the moment of birth until the instant of death in an emergent universe.
Philosophers such as Thomas Berry and Joseph Campbell and Pierre Teilhard tell us we should couch our belief systems--including Christianity--in the context of this vibrant new way of looking at the universe. For me, that means the teachings of Christ, Buddha and other prophets and seekers--about peace, love, tolerance, charity and healing--should be shared inside the framework of an ongoing awe at the variety of the world as revealed by modern cosmology.
That fantastic web of life, matter, energy and consciousness is a feature of this universe we must love and adore if we're to experience happiness. And it is reason enough to express gratefulness to God or cosmos in this season of thanksgiving.