“I give thanks to You, O God,” we pray, along with the one who prayed Psalm 86 aloud in worship thousands of years ago. For us, in that moment of realization we are face to face with the Divine, we want to pray this not just with words, but also with our actions: how we treat people and creatures, how we approach each day of our lives, how we bend toward justice in all our dealings. But deep in our hearts, we don’t want this just to be a bundle of individual actions, like that bumper sticker about “random acts of kindness.” Ideally, we want to say this prayer with the unspoken witness of our lives, the ingrained pattern of how we live, like the burnished beauty of inlaid wood that reveals its heart.
And of course we can only pray this, we can only even want this, by God’s grace. It’s a gift to be able to yearn for such a grateful heart.
The fact is that grace and love flow from God’s great heart to our own hearts. We find this throughout the Bible. For example, “God fashions the hearts of us all” (Psalm 33:15). Life itself is a wondrous gift! It’s given to us moment by moment, to shape and to use on God’s behalf. Most of us only notice this when we’re being faithful and joyful stewards: that is, in the times when we are living our lives, not as possessions to be owned or as burdens to be carried, but as gifts to be celebrated and shared with the people around us.
God is the One who created us, and not just from a distance, but personally, we might say “heart to heart.” Like the mother who holds her newborn close, to be safe and able to hear her heartbeat. There’s a Bible phrase I love: “Deep calls to deep.” (Psalm 42:7) Not only does God call to the thundering cataracts and the vast powers of nature, but to the depths of our lives, as well. God’s love reaches out to each one of us, way down to our times of fears or worries or pretensions, as well as in our moments of delight. God reaches out to us from the depths of God’s heart to the depths of our own. Because of the Incarnation, God’s coming to us as a real human being, God knows the worst of how creatures can suffer, and loves us that deeply in return.
So we are always, fundamentally, receivers when it comes to God.
Miroslav Volf, professor and theologian, talks about how we all literally live on God’s given breath. 1 Remember the story in Genesis chapter 2? God forms adam (human being, related to adamah, the soil of this earth) and breathes the breath of life into him, and he becomes a living being. (Genesis 2:7) And Father Richard Rohr takes it even further. He talks about “co-breathing with God.” 2 Just imagine! With every breath we take in, we breathe in God’s grace, and with every breath we breathe out, we share God’s love! That’s the living embodiment of a Breath Prayer, the breath of life itself.
Recognizing this, the only way we can live is out of gratitude! There’s a natural progression here: while our faith (trust in God) receives God’s gifts as gifts, not entitlements, it is our gratitude that receives those blessings well! When we’re aware of this, we are grateful, not only for a long list of God’s blessings in our lives (whatever our outward circumstances), but also for being able to act as some part of God’s blessing to others.
In the midst of our gratitude, God calls us to make ourselves available as instruments for God, the infinite Giver, to live and move and have our being in God, and to give of ourselves and what God has entrusted to us to benefit God’s people and creation, participating in God’s gift-giving in the world. From God’s great heart to our grateful hearts to other hearts, and from their hearts to our own.
1 – Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace
2 – Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life