In his book, The Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rohleiser writes, “Karl Rahner once said that in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we eventually realize that, here in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished. He is right. In this world there is no such thing as a fully consummate joy.”
As I grow older, gratitude becomes more about seeing the grace in all parts of this “unfinished symphony” of life and learning to say “thank you” no matter what.
I can often do that in retrospect.
In spiritual direction last week, I reflected on a tough conversation I had recently with a dear friend. It was a rocky year in our relationship that caused hurt to both of us. Through our phone call, we were able to sort things out. I shared with my spiritual director that I am, of course, grateful for the forgiveness and reconciliation we experienced. But I realized as I talked that I am strangely grateful for the difficult moments, because they led us to go deeper, be more honest, and choose friendship again with a renewed commitment.
It didn’t feel great while it was happening, but as I stepped back and looked at the whole picture, I was grateful for all of it.
I also found myself thinking about the last boyfriend I had before entering religious life. It was painful to let such a beautiful romantic relationship go, and sometimes, the pain still surfaces. But I am finally to a point where I can step back and look open-heartedly at the whole picture. Can I imagine my life without that part of the journey? I don’t want to. I am thankful that I had the chance to experience such love with a truly good man. I am thankful for the person he is and for his family, who touched my life. I am grateful for the inner strength I discovered through the letting go.
I turned these reflections over in my heart during Thanksgiving Day Mass at our Motherhouse. The priest began his homily inviting us to a broader, more profound kind of gratitude. He offered that we all most likely know what we are thankful for, but that we could probably grow in our awareness of God’s generosity to us in all things and circumstances. I felt like he had eavesdropped on my spiritual direction session!
“I’m listening, God!” I thought.
Fr. Phil turned to Mary as an example of profound gratitude. He had just finished proclaiming the Gospel passage of the Visitation, and he said that Mary’s joy in the Magnificat shows us true thanksgiving. Mary’s pregnancy was not a peaceful, easy occurrence. Her visit to Elizabeth took place in a tumultuous, uncertain time in her life. Young and newly with child, unsure what it would mean to bear God’s son, there could have been much to fear and lament.
And yet, Mary praised God with her whole being for the wonders God has done.
I left Mass filled with quiet joy but also urged by the challenge I heard. Mary’s example reminds us to step back and see the whole picture every day. She did not look back and see the whole picture. She looked her current situation straight in the face and rejoiced. In the mysterious human heart, we rarely have one isolated emotion. Life is so often a mixed bag, swirling joy with pain, hope with fear, or sadness with thanksgiving. When I focus in on one part of the story I am living, I might only see the struggle. If I look on my life with the eyes of Eternal Love, I might find myself saying “thank you” when I least expect it. The pain will not vanish, but gratitude may put it in perspective.
I pray to grow in the spiritual practice of gratitude. Can I choose to look at the daily unfinished symphony of life with a heart of gratitude as Mary did? Can I look at the whole picture now, no matter what, and rejoice?
The Almighty has done, and is doing, great things for us.