Is gratitude a natural impulse?



What can nature teach us about gratitude?

It can teach us that being thankful is normal, according to the Greater Good Science Center.

This University of California Berkeley campus research center has studied the natural occurrence of gratitude in nature and one of their stories is particularly impressive.

“In December of 2005, a 50-foot, 50-ton, female humpback whale got tangled in crab lines and was in danger of drowning. After a team of divers freed her, she nuzzled each of her rescuers in turn and flapped around in what one whale expert said was ‘a rare and remarkable encounter,’” rescuer James Moskito recalled.

“It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing it was free and that we had helped it,” he concluded.

But what if our natural “gratitude gene” seems to be lost amid life’s troubles?

According to Julie Ruchniewicz, of the Parish Nurse Ministry of Advocate Health Care in Evanston Illinois, there is something we can do about it and doing so is beneficial. She writes, “Interestingly enough, it has been determined that you can cultivate a positive attitude, with a little practice. Working on your sense of gratitude can help you maintain a more positive mood in your daily life and add to emotional well-being. People with a greater level of gratitude tend to have stronger relationships, are happier and sleep better. Since relationships, happiness and sleep contribute to your health; grateful people tend to be healthier.”

I’m also in the “cultivating gratitude” camp. It just feels natural to want to express thanks.

Recently due to a change in my personal situation, a 30 minute commute to volunteer at a juvenile detention center became a 4½ hour journey at the end of my work day. I found myself resenting that longer commute even though I loved conducting a Bible Study there. I had been doing this for several years, and although others have stepped forward to help, I was still covering a need once a month on Monday evenings.

About half way through our Bible Study, I noticed several of the kids were shivering. Apparently the heating was not working where we had been assigned to meet and they were all in short sleeves. I suggested we end the session early so they could go back to their warm rooms. “No! You must stay. You’re blessing us!” they protested.

I continued until the end of our allotted time, inspired and rejuvenated! In fact their expressed appreciation for the Bible Study lifted the resentment over the commute right out of my thought. And I still feel only joy when I think about them. I believe I witnessed what this thought from a favorite stanza in the Christian Science Hymnal describes, “And every weary child shall turn in gratitude toward Thee, the Light.”

Gratitude is a powerful antidote! A pioneer in the science of Christianity, Mary Baker Eddy commented, “Under affliction in the very depths, stop and contemplate what you have to be grateful for.” Jesus illustrated this when he gave thanks to God before what we would think of as impossible challenges. And then he went forward…

Finding a reason to give thanks can also help us progress. “If you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude you’ll not be on speaking terms with happiness.” (anonymous) A good beginning isn’t it for our holiday season?

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Learning from Malala



Have you ever struggled to “turn the other cheek”, as Jesus put it?

Here’s a good example of how it is done: “I was never angry, not for a moment. Not even an atom, or neutron, or electron amount of anger.”

Unbelievably these words describe the reaction of a Pakistani teenager after a Taliban assassin shot her in the head at close range.

And the basis for her measured response? Her faith.

“Islam teaches humanity, equality, and forgiveness,” said the devout young woman.

This comment comes from a new documentary about a young girl who has become a global icon. The movie is called He Named Me Malala.  

So who is Malala?

She is an International advocate for girl’s education and human rights, who began blogging for the BBC at the tender age of 11.

A miracle, say her British doctors, because of her extraordinary survival at age 15, of that attempt on her life.

The youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner at 17 and the winner of many more accolades.

Malala is an inspiration.  I left a screening of her documentary in awe because of what she has accomplished. Her clear conviction of advocacy for the basic right of girls to have an education has already led to new schools being built in several developing countries. (Tragically, 60 million girls worldwide are not yet attending school.)

But I was also in awe at how she survived that mortal wound without the mental impairment that was at first feared. Could it be because she recognizes there is something more going on than just a material existence?  At one point in the documentary Malala said, “a consciousness exists that exists beyond all boundaries”.

As someone who has experienced such healing over many years through gaining an understanding of God as a boundless, divine Mind, I can really relate to that idea.

Anciently, another survivor of an opposite mentality that sees everything in terms of limitation – boundaries of ignorance, mortality, and hatred – also observed the effect of this greater consciousness or God, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”, Jesus said.

Malala has not only been blessed, but has reached us all through her courage, motivation, and selfless, humble manner. I have been blessed by learning from her persecution and triumph.

Thank-you Malala!

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Almost an Ashley Madison encounter



Infidelity is in the news – big time.

As a result of the recent Ashley Madison hack, thousands are waking up to find their spouse believes it’s alright to seek a quick, romantic fling on the side.

I know how that feels. It was my husband’s infidelity that ended my first marriage. In the trauma of the ensuing divorce, I made a vow never to expose myself to such suffering again. It would be far easier (or so I thought) to remain celibate – simply no more involved relationships!

But I was in for a surprise. Soon after making that personal declaration I met a man who made it completely understandable to me why 35 million people were discovered to be Ashely Madison subscribers. After our first date I felt eager to toss my new vow aside.

But that wasn’t the only feeling I had. There was simultaneously a nagging sense that something was wrong. So while I didn’t for a moment consider canceling our second date, I did decide to spend the afternoon before it trying to get back my sunny, carefree disposition.

At the time, I was in the middle of reading through Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures whose message of everyone’s innate spiritual self-worth gave me a basis for that joyful disposition. Reading the book always left me feeling peaceful. The author, Mary Baker Eddy, also had a marriage that ended in divorce after 20 years due to infidelity – just like mine. I thought reading her ideas would be the perfect way to restore my equanimity.

Thankfully, the book did restore my peace of mind but it also did more than that. As I read, I had a warm tangible sense of being blanketed with an unconditional love – a love that didn’t require someone’s presence to prompt it.

We did have that second date, but my previous hope of taking the relationship to the “next level” was soon superseded by an instinctive recognition that I should stop seeing him. At a chance meeting five years later I found out those instincts were spot on. He told me that he had been living with another woman when I had declined going to a hotel with him on our second and last meeting.

I’m grateful for that date. It led me to uncover the love that I truly desired, which I felt during that afternoon of reading. That feeling of being valued and whole stayed with me. I’m reminded of Jesus saying,”…neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” I wish the same for all Ashley Madison subscribers and their spouses.

Perhaps the Ashley Madison hack will help others similarly turn from “looking for love in all the wrong places” to finding the satisfaction of knowing they are deeply, divinely loved.

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Arthritis sufferers find remedy in spirituality




Some years ago a friend and I were visiting with her grandmother.  Grannys conversation with us was peppered with resentment. Though I dont remember today what it was that distressed her, I still have a strong impression of how her hands were gnarled with arthritis.

And I wondered if her hands would be better if she could forgive, rather than recount, her hurt.

This unanswered question resurfaced recently, when I read that  arthritis took the top spot in an extensive Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study into the most prevalent diagnosed chronic illnesses in people aged 65 and older. Amazingly, arthritis had more than double the occurrence of the next most common ailment.  

As my heart went out to those suffering in this way, I thought of my friends grandmother.. 

Could there be a spiritual remedy to resolve the resentment, bitterness, and frustration that often seem to accompany old age, and could doing so have any impact on arthritis?

I quickly discovered a host of books, articles, and personal testimonies of those healed of arthritis as a result of forgiveness, prayer, or spiritual counseling.

Here’s a sample of my findings:

In The truth about forgivenessauthor Wendy Bussell shares, My family physician told me, Wendy if you do not deal with your past and the resentments you have, you will be an arthritic cripple by the time you are forty-five.As a chaplain, she let her faith guide her to a larger relationship with God which resulted in finding forgiveness and she remained free of arthritis.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Strength to Lovewrote, Medical science reveals that such physical ailments as arthritis, gastric ulcer, and asthma have on occasion been encouraged by bitter resentments. Psychosomatic medicine shows how deep resentment may result in physical deterioration.”  And he goes on to quote Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

The weekly inspirational magazine, the Christian Science Sentinel carried this account by contributor Wilbur Jenkins, “I was almost completely immobile. Medical specialists were called in and diagnosed the condition as rheumatoid arthritis. They told me it was incurable. My family, who are deeply religious, brought me an article from a Protestant magazine. In it, the author recounted how he had learned to live with arthritis.

“Then and there I decided that I was going to learn to live without arthritis!”

When Wilbur went home, the first thing he did was call a Christian Science practitioner. He recounts, “I will always remember the practitioner’s gentle insistence that I must learn to love more! She recommended that I study Christ Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and especially the verse in which Jesus says (Matt. 5:44), “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

“I learned to think of love as a mental attitude of being on my knees in humble forgiveness and compassion for my fellowmen.”

As he continued to study the Bible and a companion book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by noted Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy, his arthritis disappeared. He resumed normal activities and closes his account by commenting, “I’m striving daily to learn to love more.”

These examples give us hope that we too can learn to love more and forgive. And then why shouldn’t we find ourselves as well with greater freedom of thought and movement!

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Freedom to restore purpose and health




“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…”
declares the July 1776, Declaration of Independence.

But do we?

Have you ever found yourself a bit ahead of life’s measuring stick, or coming out on the short end of it? For me, that sense of equality – the respect of others – can so often get lost in comparisons.

A few years ago I found myself in a job I did not seek, but had accepted out of a sense of duty. Frustration ruled my days, then months, as most of what I set out to accomplish failed. Compounding this dilemma were regular conference calls with colleagues who shared their thrilling successes… Finally, I became physically stressed out too, experiencing a progressive stiffness that interfered with my sleep.

Hoping for some guidance on what to do, I turned to the Bible one day. Perhaps this could be considered a desperate impulse. However, time and again I have found this statement true: “The Bible contains the recipe for all healing.” The words are from a book that has helped me in many tough times, called Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Turning to the Scriptures in that moment of need helped me realize for the first time that comparing myself to others was a mistake, contributing to major self doubt and royally interfering with my ability to discern my way. A passage from Proverbs gave me a refreshing new focus: “In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success.”

And He did just that!

My approach to work changed. I was no longer trying to figure out everything on my own, nor was I thoughtlessly mimicking others, I found an appreciation for humble prayer that is more about listening for solutions than listing problems.

I began to have restful sleep again as the stiffness eased. And soon I too was contributing my own accomplishments on those colleague conference calls.

I experienced a sense of health and opportunity that only freedom of thought and heart can bring – a freedom to live the best in myself and to highlight the good in everyone else.

This 4th of July, let’s take the truth that all men and women are created equal to heart, and find the independence that doing so can bring to our minds and bodies.

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Dad was proud of his collection of duck decoys.

But little did he know that he himself would be deceived by them, when my prankster of a brother-in-law decided to play a practical joke on him.

When we were all visiting my parents, my brother-in-law got up extra early to place the decoys at the edge of a pond bordering their home. Dad, sipping his first coffee of the day and surveying the view, spotted ducks in the pond. Forgetting his eye-glasses, he grabbed some bread and hurried out to welcome the new arrivals, hoping they’d select his yard to nest.

He was diligent as he tried to woo the decoys to make their home on his land. Finally, though, my brother-in-law had to go out and let him know that all the quacking and breadcrumbs in the world would not matter a bit to those decoys!

I think of that when I consider the more important issue of caring for our health. Are we focusing on the duck or the decoy? We’re so used to assessing our health according to the state of our minds and our bodies, but is that actually distracting us from a deeper, spiritual understanding of our health?

I know of a woman, Elizabeth, who after struggling with a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder for 12 years, found healing and discovered the disease was actually just that, a decoy. She writes, “After a year or so on medication, I became dissatisfied with the side effects and began exploring alternative treatments. In each case, relief was temporary.”

Finally, she decided to pray and engaged a Christian Science practitioner to help her.

Elizabeth continues: “There were days when the challenge of the disease seemed insurmountable, but I was gradually learning what Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, meant when she wrote that we must “watch, and pray for that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus:. . .” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures) When I felt like I was getting out of balance or anxious, the Bible verse, ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee’ restored me.

During quiet times at work, I would ask God what to think about. I kept a pad of paper at hand to write down things for which I was grateful. This discipline taught me that the whole of Christian life is worshipping God—thinking of Him, acknowledging His presence, asking Him for guidance, praising His goodness. Surely keeping our thoughts “stayed” on God is the forever joy of life.

Then for the first time, she saw the bipolar diagnosis differently. She saw that God didn’t make it and that it didn’t belong to her individuality as a child of God. In her prayers, it became clear to her that such a diagnosis was not truly a part of her or anyone.

“I knew I was safe. Fear was replaced with the feeling of being well, really truly well,” she concludes.

It is so interesting and hopeful to find that Elizabeth’s experience is not an isolated incident. Duke University’s Harold G. Koenig, M.D. recently reported, “An exhaustive analysis of more than 1500 reputable medical studies indicates people who are more religious and pray more have better mental and physical health.”

One might conclude that a more spiritual sense of oneself keeps us from accepting a decoy of disease!

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