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Gratitude: Awaking to Surprise

Waking up is a process. In the morning it is quite a different process for different people.  Some of us wake up with a start and are wide awake for the rest of the day. They are lucky. Others have to do it stage by stage, cup of coffee by cup of coffee. What counts is that we don't go back to bed again. What counts on your path to fulfillment is that we remember the great truth that moments of surprise want to teach us: everything is gratuitous, everything is gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness. And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness....

A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace. We know this with a knowledge that goes beyond our intellect. Yet our intellect shares in it. We cannot be grateful unless our intellect plays its role. We must recognize the gift as gift, and only our intellect can do that.

For some people this is not easy. There are those who are simply too dull, too slow witted, perhaps too lazy to recognize anything as gift. Their intellect is not alert enough. They take everything for granted. They go through life in a daze. It takes a certain intellectual sharpness to be grateful....

Intellect by itself only gets us so far. It has a share in gratefulness, but only a share. Our intellect should be alert enough to look through the predictable husks of things to their core and find there a kernel of surprise. That in itself is a demanding task. But truthfulness also demands that the intellect be sufficiently humble, that is, sufficiently down to earth, to know its limits. The gift character of everything can be recognized, but it cannot be proved - not by the intellect alone, at any rate. Proof lies in living. And there is more to living than the intellect can grasp.

- David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness (Paulist Press, 1984), pp. 11-13.

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