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11/23/2009                                                                                       View Comments

UnChristian Gratitude

by Dr. Marlene Winell

Watch me fly away, give me life like a butterf...Image by Te55 via Flickr

Recently I had a very short, but encouraging little dream right before waking up. I had been feeling burdened by all the problems in the world. In my dream I got the message that “the butterflies are working to lift our spirits.” I woke up surprised and delighted. Later I shared it with a couple friends who also liked it, amused by the image.

Then I mentioned it to a Christian I know, who responded, “Maybe that’s why God made them.”

Perhaps some of you who are also “recovering Christians” can help me understand my irritation. My guess is that I’m tired of this pattern of making everything good one step removed from our direct experience. In the typical Christian view, nature’s beauty is always “God’s handiwork.” When you look at a sunset or the intricacy of an orchid, you have to give credit to God and be thankful to Him. Nothing is simply beautiful or amazing for its own sake.

This Thanksgiving, lets enjoy and reclaim our gratitude for what IS. I do believe that when we experience directly, without the intervening “author,” we can appreciate more.Two stories from former clients come to mind. As part of their recovery, they were letting go of the Christian mindset and discovering a secular point of view. Much to their surprise, it was an enormous relief and emotionally powerful.

In Australia, “Catherine” woke up one morning and walked into her living room where she heard the early morning bird sounds outside. She opened the doors to the yard so she could hear more and was stunned by the beautiful sound. She realized she had heard these songs many times but never truly noticed them because she always attributed them to the work of the “Creator.” On this morning, she lay down on the carpet to listen. Her husband and kids were still asleep and she had time alone. Soon she was overwhelmed and began weeping. She felt like she was hearing the birds for the first time.

Dr. Marlene Winell

“Natalie” grew up in a sheltered fundamentalist environment in Virginia where everything had to be “of God” and the only art or expression had to be for “His glory.” So when she met a young pianist who could play great musical classics, she was enthralled. She found she loved music, and not just “worship music.” As a gift to her, her new friend played and played on a grand piano while she lay underneath, transported. It changed her life.

So this Thanksgiving, lets enjoy and reclaim our gratitude for what IS. I do believe that when we experience directly, without the intervening “author,” we can appreciate more. We can look at the amazing night sky and let it permeate our being. The smell of jasmine, the taste of pomegranate, the feel of a feather, the rush of a waterfall, the design of a snowflake. The list is endless, and our capacity for awe and wonder can be endless if we open ourselves up. If we must use any spiritual words, I prefer to say these things ARE God, rather than made by God.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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