Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.
-- Simone Weil (1909-1943) French mystic and philosopher
Suddenly and inexplicably, more often than anyone ever suspects, life stuns us with loss. A phone call in the middle of the night, a TV bulletin across the screen, a pounding at the door… and what was, only a moment ago—and what we took for granted—serenity, sanity, security, safety, sameness—is ruthlessly snatched away, blown to smithereens, engulfed by a wave or burned to the ground. And we are left helplessly behind—bewildered, bereft, and incredulous at the unimaginable now facing us--as we take a number in the waiting room of heartbreak.
This has been a shattering two weeks for many of us in California. Wildfires have raged, ravished and destroyed lives, homes and businesses. Paradise, an entire town of 26,000 souls, has been razed to the ground in dust and disbelief. Some have lost loved ones, most have lost their homes. All must start over now. The litany of loss seems enormous, the chasm between the past and the future fathomless.
There are simply no words to express, or to console or encourage and yet, I can’t not write to you. There’s no explanation, no reasoning, no self-help mantra, no belief big enough to surmount the anguish so many people feel at this moment. There’s no secret on earth to help you come to grips with the vast unknown. And yet, for hope, for inspiration look at the bravery of the first responders, those on the ground and in the air: the fire-fighters, police, paramedics, rescue pilots, ambulance drivers and the school bus driver who delivered 20 children safely home, all the people rushing to help. God bless you and your families. You are our heroes and heroines. Thank you for your courage and compassion. You are collectively our Comforters in Chief.
I’ve written for twenty years about the power of Gratitude to change our lives for the better. It’s easy to be grateful and to write about gratitude when life hums—when there’s money in the bank, you’re healthy and have a roof over your head. But what I’ve not shared or written about enough is how Gratitude’s mystical power is greatest when She holds us together even as we’re falling apart.
Because ironically, Gratitude’s most profound mysteries are revealed when we are struggling during personal turmoil and overcome with doubt. Gratitude fills in the gaps. When we stumble in the darkness, rage in anger at the unfairness and throw faith across the room. When we abandon all hope and cry ourselves to sleep, Gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us that we will get through whatever it is that we think we can’t or won’t get over, and if we can’t get over it, we will, eventually get through it.
The Bible instructs us “to give thanks in all circumstances,” but it doesn’t tell us we have to be smiling while we say it. In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths, tears have always been considered one of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Talmud teaches that “Even when the gates of Heaven are closed to prayers, they are open to tears” and in the Hebrew Old Testament, an entire book of the Bible is devoted to crying—the Book of Lamentations. And the Psalmist (56:8) recalls that “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” What book might that be?
Could it be a Divine Gratitude Journal?
Once during a season of devastating loss, I forced out a sarcastic litany of “thanks” because I knew it was the only way that I could mourn and move on (the downside of spiritual law no one ever talks about is once you understand a lesson, you can’t play dumb). “There I’ve thanked you for my misery and pain. Are you happy now? But don’t you dare come near me,” I cried, holding up my hand to Heaven in defiance, pushing away the very Love I needed most. “So, thanks a million. Now you go your way and I’ll go mine.”
Naked, complete, bitter surrender. But only because I’d been beaten senseless by sorrow. Sometime in order to bridge the chasm between our hearts and our souls, Spirit takes no prisoners. Almost immediately I was enwrapped in a surreal sense of peace which certainly passed my feeble capacity for understanding and it still does. I became genuinely grateful to have been carried off the battlefield of dumbfounded disbelief by a Source of power, wisdom, strength and love far greater than my own. Within a short time, the trajectory of my life was forever altered in miraculous ways. First the gesture, then the grace.
My most profound lessons about life, love, goodness and courage were revealed by Gratitude when Heaven and I were barely on speaking terms. If you read this now and think you aren’t ready for any thanksgiving this year, then I wrap you in my arms and reassure you that is okay. Heaven doesn’t keep score and Gratitude doesn’t keep count, other than to lift us up off the mat before Life’s referee calls us out.
Sending dearest love and blessings on your courage. And wishing you and yours safe passage to peace and plenty.