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The Holiness of Gratitude

The Holiness of Gratitude


By Martin Elfert

One of my spiritual practices is to write thank you notes – not for things that happened yesterday or last week or last month (although I write those kinds of notes as well), but for things that happened years ago. A while back in this column, for instance, I shared with you the letter that I wrote to my old university teacher. This week, I wrote a similar letter to the owner of a hardware store back in Canada.

For years, the hardware store has been mailing out a more or less monthly catalogue. The catalogue always begins with a letter. In the beginning, the letter was written by the store’s founder. Now, the founder has died and the letter is written by his son. Yesterday, I wrote the son to say:

I wanted you to know that I have been thinking a lot about your Dad lately. Back during a lonely stretch in my life, I looked forward to receiving your catalogue. That was in large part due to your Dad’s optimistic and sometimes whimsical reflections: receiving the catalogue felt like getting a letter from a friend who was interested in a lot of the same things as me.

I’m not lonely today – I’ve been married for a bunch of years and we have three lively children – but I continue to be grateful for the days when your Dad’s letters showed up in my mailbox. I regret not writing him during his lifetime to say as much. Perhaps I can hope that letters such as this are occasionally delivered in heaven and that this message of appreciation will reach him.

I suppose that I engage in this practice of sharing old thanksgivings because there is something holy about giving gratitude away. The practice is important to me – much as when I forgive, I feel lighter when I do it. And I like to think that it is important as well to the one who receives the gratitude. After all, it’s a big deal to learn that your actions were a gift to another person, that your actions invited hope or inspiration into their lives.

Sometimes – most of the time – we’d never guess that what we did or said made such a big impression if no one told us.

I’m going to keep on writing down my old gratitude. If you like, I’ll invite you to do the same, to write a letter or two of your own. It might just prove to be a gift both to you and to the one to whom you write. As you put the stamp on to the envelope and drop it into the box, you just might discover that you are posting a few ounces of healing and goodness and joy into the world.

Martin Elfert

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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