November 21, 2012 - A few days ago I bundled my family up and drove to the Haehnle Sanctuary, west of Ann Arbor, to observe the Sandhill Cranes who are gathering in large numbers in preparation for their migration south for the winter.
As the sun was setting and the air was getting colder, thousands of wondrous cranes with their long necks gracefully leading the way and their thin legs trailing behind came flying in.
It was a divinely choreographed symphony as at first a group of three appeared, then 12, then 20 and then hundreds at a time came into view. They just kept coming and coming until night blurred our vision.
How grateful I am to my friend who told me of this place, to my wife and son who agreed to come along and share the experience, to the people who have carved out this special place to preserve it for you and me and future generations.
Most of all I am grateful for the infinite, eternal, unlimited loving presence and power that I call God and for this thing called life.
It can be difficult to feel gratitude when we are experiencing difficulties, health challenges, financial shortfalls or conflicts in our relationships.
I know that these can be all encompassing coloring every interaction, clouding our thinking and moods, interfering with our joy for living.
I also know that I can always find something to be grateful for and the more I am grateful the more I have to be grateful for. Where I saw a divine symphony, I know others just saw a bunch of stupid birds.
A practice I began many years ago is to write down 10 things that I am grateful for first thing in the morning before my mind has much of a chance to begin obsessing about all the things I have to do today.
Try this for 21 days and your life will be transformed.
I begin and end my days with prayers of gratitude for this day and all the many blessings in it, my friends and family and loved ones, this wonderful life we live.
Then I individually name the people and the events that have blessed me whether I recognized it at the time or not. Often what we complain about the most conceals the greatest blessing, as this anonymous prayer demonstrates.
"Lord, thank you for this sink of dirty dishes; we have plenty of food to eat. Thank you for this pile of dirty, stinky laundry; we have plenty of good clothes to wear. And I would like to thank you, Lord, for those unmade beds; they were so warm and comfortable last night. I know that many have no bed.
"My thanks to you, Lord, for this bathroom, complete with all the splattered mirrors, soggy, grimy towels, and dirty lavatory; they are so convenient. Thank you for this finger-smudged refrigerator that needs cleaning inside and out. It has served us faithfully for many years and has enough food in it for several meals. Thank you, Lord for this oven that absolutely must be cleaned today. It has baked so many things over the years.
"The whole family is grateful for that tall grass that needs mowing and the lawn that needs raking; we all enjoy the yard. Thank you, Lord, even for that slamming door; my kids are healthy and able to run and play. Lord, the presence of all these chores awaiting me says that you have richly blessed my family. I shall do them cheerfully and I shall do them gratefully."
In the words of Rabbi Harold Kushner: "If you concentrate on finding the good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures your soul."
How do we create a joy filled life, through the power of gratitude.
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'thank you' it will be enough." Meister Eckhardt
Rev. Matthew E. Long, Peace Unity Community.
The Rev. Matthew E. Long is senior minister at Peace Unity Community.