Manresa - Entrance to the Cave of St. Ignatius

An Exercise in Gratitude

It’s easy to be grateful when life is good.

As we prepare to enter this celebration of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but find myself wrestling with my inner search for gratitude amidst the tumult of this year. What do we do when we feel powerless to find the blessings of life?

Perhaps in our hubris, we often take as blessings our own works instead of the works of God. We ignore the blessing of our body in favor of our wonderful clothes; we ignore the blessing of our mind in favor of our accomplishments and accolades; we ignore the blessing of peaceful silence in favor of the excitement of busyness.

Saint John of the Cross tells us that “God’s first language is silence.” Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk, reminds us that “Everything else is poor translation.”

On each of our retreats we work diligently to invite young people to an experience of silence. This simple but powerful exercise is surprisingly most of our students’ favorite part of their retreat. During my first few years as a retreat leader, I would participate in these periods of silence, but over time I found myself filling that space with work, or conversations with the team, or just mindlessly browsing the internet on my phone until it was time to regroup and process the experience.

This year, as the COVID pandemic began I found myself with an abundance of time and of silence. Rather than ignore this invitation, I found myself drawn curiously to what this new experience was providing. At the direction of a close friend and spiritual mentor, I took time to intentionally allow not only myself but also my team to embrace this opportunity for our own prayer. For the last 4 months, we have been gathering weekly on Fridays for at least an hour to engage in the Spiritual Exercises, all in silence.

Taking intentional time to sit in silence has been by far the greatest blessing I have experienced this year. Sitting in God’s presence at length, not just for ten or fifteen minutes, has opened up a whole new conversation that I hadn’t been able to have before. A period of spiritual dryness has become flooded with wisdom and grace.

In my pursuit of gratitude this year, I find a recognition that I am still grateful for the many gifts and blessings of life that I acknowledge every year, but this year I am most grateful for the blessing of this time to listen to God speak.

If you find yourself struggling to be grateful this week, perhaps in silence you will discover what you seek.