Thanksgiving -- Gratitude
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Issue Date:  November 23, 2007


Be grateful for things that otherwise might be taken for granted, like sight, air, scents, the countless elements of one's surroundings that sustain and uplift the soul.

The network of gratitude sends its spiritual message around the Web world


Thanksgiving is coming, a time to celebrate gratefulness. Gratitude, it’s said, is the highest prayer form. To live gratefully is to live in a state of conscious relationship, a Trinity-like awareness. So universal, so fundamental is the notion of gratitude, the Thanksgiving holiday seems to defy the secularization Christmas has suffered.

We readily give thanks for things we perceive to be beneficial, but what if, in a state of sustained gratefulness, we were thankful for any fortune, good or bad -- grateful for simply being? The good souls at A Network for Grateful Living (ANG*L) have some answers to that question. Their thoughts on gratefulness are reaching tens of thousands daily at

The staff at ANG*L initially came together in 2000 to support the writings of Benedictine Br. David Steindl-Rast, 81, whose lifelong passion to spread the practice of gratefulness is attracting a burst of global interest.

Only a few years back, Steindl-Rast was known and admired in somewhat isolated circles in the United States and Europe. Today, largely because of the creative networking that ANG*L has been doing at, thousands are hearing his words and following his practices on a daily basis. first went live on the Internet in 2000. Patricia Campbell Carlson, the executive director of ANG*L, said that in those days maybe a handful of people might have stumbled upon the Web site in a given day. No longer.

“It’s been quite amazing,” Carlson said. “Our Web log shows 11,000 hits daily within the U.S. and 17,000 more each day outside the U.S. And the number keeps growing.”

Carlson lives in Ithaca, N.Y., where ANG*L, a nonprofit organization, is a half-hour car ride away from Elmira, N.Y., where Steindl-Rast lives gratefully at Mount Savior Benedictine Monastery.

Carlson is happy to note that one of the Web site’s most popular features, “Light a Candle,” now appears in 14 languages. But what especially delights her is the worldwide growth of interest in the ideas and practices of gratefulness.

To hear it from the ANG*L staff, to be grateful for all things is to be grateful for many little things, things that otherwise might be taken for granted, like sight, air, scents, the countless elements of one’s surroundings that sustain and uplift the soul.

Living gratefully, ANG*L writers point out, leads to attitudes of profound appreciation -- and leads to a sense of frugality, which, in turn, leads to a simple lifestyle and care for the environment.

ANG*L now sees its work as tied to ministries, said Carlson, “of personal healing, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith dialogue, intergenerational respect and ecological sustainability.”

-- NCR Staff/

An altar for candle lighting to share intentions and prayers

The work at is accomplished by a handful of staff members and sustained with the help of like-minded authors and a board responsible for its fiscal well-being. In her 2005-06 annual report, Carlson ticked off new milestones that have been passed, including ministering to “hundreds of thousands” in 242 countries since 2000 and an 80.5 percent increase in donors over the year, bringing the total to 574. The donors include staff who return part of their salaries, intending “to assure the legacy” of Br. David Steindl-Rast.

But, writes Carlson in the report, “the accomplishment of which we feel most proud does not lend itself to a list. It is an internal orientation within the human heart toward a more grateful world. When enough of us come together and face the same direction, giving our lives in response to all that has been freely given to us, we quite naturally reorient those around us.”

So what are people finding at First, a refuge of calm. On the site are lessons and readings concerning gratefulness; applications for daily practices; an altar for candle lighting to share intentions and prayers; opportunities to locate local groups already formed around gratefulness or steps to form one’s own; e-cards to send to family and friends; and signup spots for a daily gratefulness note or a monthly newsletter that now reaches 20,000. A labyrinth pilgrimage page takes visitors through a maze of gratefulness quotations and photos from different religious traditions around the world. Finally, there is a news section highlighting stories whose themes touch on spirit and gratitude.

“Gratefulness is always about an opportunity,” Carlson said. “Even when we are faced with difficulties, grief and sorrow we can respond in a positive way, and that’s a real blessing.

“The starting point for grateful living,” she concluded, “is the understanding that everything is given to us for free, as a gift, starting with life itself. So if we approach our lives that way, feeling like we are open for surprise, to see what is next, then we remain open to improve our lives and the situations around us.”

Thanksgiving, it appears, is every day at

Thomas C. Fox, former NCR editor and publisher, interviews people of interest for podcasts on

Gratefulness quotes

Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.

-- Nigerian proverb

The happy heart gives away the best. To know how to receive is also a most important gift, which cultivates generosity in others and keeps strong the cycle of life.

-- Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo, speaker, author, musician and spiritual leader in the Eastern Tsalagi (Cherokee) tradition

Under affliction in the very depths, stop and contemplate what you have to be grateful for.

-- Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science

A thankful person is thankful under all circumstances. A complaining soul complains even in paradise.

-- Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i faith

As life becomes harder and more threatening, it also becomes richer, because the fewer expectations we have, the more good things of life become unexpected gifts that we accept with gratitude.

-- Etty Hillesum, Dutch Jewish writer known for her diaries and correspondence from Westerbork concentration camp

Grateful living: an alchemic operation of converting ‘disgraceful’ things into grateful events.

-- Raimundo Panikkar, Roman Catholic priest from Spain specializing in comparative philosophy of religion

Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions,the hallmark of the mystic, and the source of all true art. .... It is a privilege to be alive in this time when we can choose to take part in the self-healing of our world.

-- Joanna Macy, eco-philosopher and scholar of Buddhism

Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.

-- Jacques Maritain, French philosopher and political thinker

Thankfulness brings you to the place where the Beloved lives.

-- Jalaluddin Rumi, Persian Sufi poet

Sanctity has to do with gratitude. To be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less.

-- Oblate Fr. Ronald Rolheiser

Books on gratefulness
By David Steindl-Rast; foreword by Henri Nouwen
Paulist Press, 240 pages, $12.95
By Deborah Norville
Thomas Nelson, 176 pages, $19.99
By Robert A. Emmons and Joanna Hill; introduction by David Steindl-Rast
Templeton Foundation Press, 112 pages, $12.95
Edited by M.J. Ryan
Fine Communications, 262 pages, $14.95
By Taz Tagore
Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 144 pages, $19.95

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2007

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