Sketchbook page with river otter,© 2013 Jan Blencowe, Sharpie fine point marker, Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle colored pencils,Uni-Ball Signo white pen, Stillman & Birn hardbound Zeta sketchbook 8.5 x 11
I have a hard time with the current gratefulness craze. You know, write down five things every day you're grateful for...there are journals, books, posters, cards, coffee mugs, etc. etc. as well as more than a few art projects making the rounds trying to cash in on this so called, attitude of gratitude. Sigh.
Gratitude is a very healthy and good attitude to cultivate but it, like so many other good and virtuous things can easily be cheapened and turned into a trite cliche, like Let go and Let God, or What Would Jesus Do?
All of these things are rather deep and profound meditations...until you start to see them plastered on tote bags. At least for me that kind of commercialization makes me back away from the idea being offered up and run the other way.
I have a lot of challenges in my life, a lot of serious struggles and things that you would be hard pressed to actually be grateful for, and in light of those challenges people quipping about being grateful for coffee, paperclips, and their iPhone make me go numb. Partially because it seems so forced. Gee, let me see, I need to get my five things written in my gratefulness journal today...uh lets see...clean socks.....etc. etc.
The ability to experience true, genuine gratefulness from the inner most core of your being is not something that you can cultivate by enumerating five silly things each day. It's something you can only experience if your heart is open to wonder, joy and the love of God in the universe. You enter into the experience of gratitude when your heart and mind are still and your ego is tamed and you are willing to humbly receive.
Today I was wondering if I would be able to muster up some thankfulness for Thanksgiving, or if I would be trapped in a more cynical frame of mind, thankful only that I was able to take life one day at a time and not be completely swept away by overwhelming circumstances.
Then it happened.
I saw him.
A magnificent, glorious river otter.
Large muscular and sleek.
I had been quietly sitting on a bench in the woods behind my house sketching the cold, gray of November along the pond edge, and I heard a loud snap. I looked up and quickly scanned the water in front of me, which was cold and covered with a thin skin of ice. There, not 30 feet from me was a beautiful, whiskered river otter with a fish in his mouth. The crack, was him biting down on the fish breaking the bones! (I was at that moment truly thankful that I had binoculars with me so I could really get a good look at him!)
This beautiful, wild creature drew forth from me such a deep, flood of gratefulness and joy. Why? Because right there I saw something of incredible beauty: the natural world, perfectly created and ordered, working exactly as it was meant to work, a web of life humming along, and I was reminded that the love of God in the universe stretches to every living creature and to the very rocks of the earth and the depths of the sea. There is life, there is death, there are fierce struggles in between, but there is also the all encompassing wisdom and love of God enfolding it all, and for that I am truly and deeply grateful.