It seems appropriate to lead off this series of reflections with something that is at once one of the greatest blessings in most of our lives and one of the easiest to take for granted—one’s home. If you are at home as you read this, take a quick glance around you. (If not, you can probably picture your home in your mind just easily.) There is nothing more familiar than these rooms that you pass through every day and the objects contained therein. Every now and then a visitor to my home will point something out—a picture, a book, a coffee mug—and I am almost surprised to see it there. Despite the fact that it enters into my field of vision everyday, I hardly ever actually see it. Such is the stultifying power of habit. We cease to pay attention to that which is most stable in our lives.
But consider what it is that we are taking for granted. Thanks to this place that I can call my own I have reliable shelter from the elements, somewhere safe to keep my possessions, a place to gather with friends and loved ones, a refuge where I can find rest at day’s end. The embarrassment of blessings we enjoy within these four walls becomes more apparent if we consider contrasting experiences. Having traveled around the country and abroad, I can recall several occasions when I felt poignantly my lack of a home at that moment. Once while hiking el Camino de Santiago across Spain, I was unable to obtain lodging for the night and ended up sleeping in the cold, open night air under the portico of a local church. Numerous times while traveling in foreign cities during my semester abroad I longed for a place of my own to leave my belongings without having to fear they would be stolen. In moments such as these, I was able to see clearly what a blessing it is to have somewhere to call home.
Even my examples of temporary discomfort betray my privilege. Indeed, I expect that for most readers of this blog, the closest we have come to a personal experience of homelessness is getting stuck overnight in an airport. I point this out not because I think we should be ashamed of the blessings we enjoy in our lives but rather because I think it is important that we maintain a healthy sense of gratitude for them.
It is important for two reasons, one concerning us and one concerning others. First, gratitude begets interior peace. There are two fundamental ways we can respond to the ceaseless desiring we experience as embodied creatures: Either we can try to satisfy those desires by acquiring ever more (the option product manufacturers hope we will opt for) or we can rediscover joy in what we already have by making the concerted effort to periodically give thanks for these things. The first approach costs much more than the second without producing any greater satisfaction. It merely fuels desire as opposed to helping us find peace in the way things are. Second, gratitude begets compassion and attentiveness to the needs of others. I am more attentive to the homeless man outside Starbucks because I, too, have been homeless, if only for a night. I am more likely to notice the holes in his jacket if I regularly give thanks for the one that shields me from the cold.
This connection between gratitude, peace, and compassion is inherent in the dynamics of a Christ-like life. These dynamics are highly visible in the Eucharist, in which we gather together, acknowledge our needs and shortcomings before God, receive God’s gift of self, and give thanks for this gift. Having been fed, we are sent forth to feed the needs of the world. Gratitude for the gifts we have received leads us to give of ourselves to others.
With this thought in mind, I am now looking around at my home again, and this time I really see it—the protection it affords me, the happy times I have experienced here, the many smaller gifts it holds. When I look through the eyes of gratitude rather than eyes of habit, this gift of my home becomes a source of joy for me and a challenge to use this gift to bring joy to others.