How to be… Grateful for No Miracles on this Journey

Reflections from Dr. Howell

Sometimes I think we think “spiritual” people have extraordinary experiences: maybe visions or hearing God, or some amazing experience, an answered prayer, some startling intervention by God, or a piece of stunning good luck which (wink, wink) we suspect isn’t luck at all.

My suspicion is that spirituality is defined less by what is unusual or amazing, but by what is normal, common, daily. I wrote a paper in seminary calculating how often in Bible times a miracle actually occurred – and it turns out Bible people experienced a miracle once every 90 years or so. Yet there was always, during the other 89, plenty of amazement all around. Being spiritual might be simply noticing, and slowing down enough to be amazed, even in awe.

Walter Isaacson summed up the genius, doubt and faith of Albert Einstein: “For some people, miracles serve as evidence of God’s existence. For Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence. The fact that the cosmos is comprehensible, that it follows laws, is worthy of awe. God reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists.” Maybe being spiritual is pausing in awe that gravity works, or that your blood is circulating, or that flour + butter + milk = biscuits. Maybe being spiritual is like a child stopping to pluck a dandelion, or being freaked out by a little patch of green sprouting up through the crack in the sidewalk. You may think, That’s not me. But it could be, if you try, if you decide to notice.

And then: Gratitude must be the heartbeat, or the spinal cord or skeletal structure of the spiritual life. Jews are instructed, on waking, to utter “Thank you, O God” before anything else. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “We thank before we think.” Realizing, in big and little things, how much we owe to others who were kind, patient, gave us a chance, thought more highly of us than we thought of ourselves, or said Yes, you! in some way, or just have loved us: gratitude. Always possible, always a choice we make, always healing. If you express openly your gratitude to others and the world, you’re less anxious or depressed. Just the way we’re wired.

I love Rabbi David Wolpe’s wisdom: “There is no trick to being grateful for that which is rare and special. To be grateful for that which is always there is difficult.”

TRY THIS: all day today, and tomorrow, and the next days, take mental notes over what you have to be grateful for. Call somebody. Text. Write a note. Fall on your knees in delight. What could be more spiritual?