Ray Lovegrove, the Hay Quaker, recently posted a quote from Faith Baldwin that spoke to me directly:
I have learned over a period of time to be almost unconsciously grateful–as a child is–for a sunny day, blue water, flowers in a vase, a tree turning red. I have learned to be glad at dawn and when the sky is dark. Only children and a few spiritually evolved people are born to feel gratitude as naturally as they breathe, without even thinking. Most of us come to it step by painful step, to discover that gratitude is a form of acceptance.
It’s a while since I was a child, and I certainly wouldn’t claim to be spiritually evolved (whatever that means) but I realised, reading this passage from an author I hadn’t encountered before, and whose online biographies provide no clue to how she could come up with a passage of such insight and beauty, that all through my life I have been a person of gratitude. More than that, I have discovered, despite the pain involved in many of the steps, that gratitude is truly a kind of glad acceptance of whatever comes, as from the hand of God.
(I’m conscious that my last metaphor may seem worryingly anthropomorphic, but what I mean is that I am acutely aware – and have been since before I could identify myself with any religion or metaphysical system – of myself as a dependent part of all that is, and that that all-that-is rests in some kind of ground from which is arises, and which is its source and its home. Accepting whatever comes as from the hand of God is probably a more elegant, and certainly a more concise, way of saying that!)
One of my very favourite passages from the Apostle Paul’s writings is Romans 8.28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It would be unpardonably arrogant of me to apply this teaching directly to anyone else’s life, but for myself I have found it to be true even in the most apparently destructive and irredeemable of circumstances. Somehow I have never been able to find it in myself to resent circumstances, or to accuse them of victimising me, but rather I’ve been grateful – oh, not for the hurts themselves, but for all the true and gleaming things one can see through tears that somehow one never notices dry-eyed.
I wonder sometimes if it’s not gratitude, that glad acceptance of what comes to be as somehow grace, from the source of all that is, that seems to turn even the disasters into open doors, and the darkness into a womb of possibility. Is that perhaps what Paul was getting at, between the floggings and the betrayals and the imprisonments that dogged his ministry, when he wrote these words in his letter to the Romans?