“Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. If you do forget the LORD your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”
Deuteronomy 8:17-19, Morning Prayer, Lent 1, Monday, the Daily Office Book, Year One
If there is nothing else I can take from this reading is that the spiritual journey is one to be traveled in humility. I would say also that any life well lived must be lived humbly. I must honestly admit that whatever I have accomplished in my life I have not done so alone. The fact that I am on this good, generous and plentiful earth, in the first place, is something for which I can take no credit in and had no part in. I was conceived out of the relationship between my mother and father; I had nothing to do with it. At times in my moments of self-absorption when I may deceive myself into thinking as though it was otherwise, I was not self-conceived!
Nor can I fully own my “wealth” of accomplishments as there were countless influences on me, good and bad. Good influences from parents, family, teachers, coaches, friends, mentors, and priests helped (and still do so) shape me, and encouraged me, to do well and treat others well. There were bad influences as well which tested me and challenged me (and still do so), which even in my failings, ultimately led me to better understand my true identity. When I look back on the successes I had in sports, business and life, there were those who were team-mates, associates and companions who contributed to my success. When I had my own business, my success was dependent upon the efforts of my employees.
I solely possess nothing of my own; this is the realist of realities of my life on this earth, of anyone’s life on this earth, for there is nothing, nothing that we have, or are, which is not dependent upon the efforts of others who came before me and who are with me now. From our birth until we die, we owe debts of gratitude to those who came before us, to those who conceived us and to those who’ve lived and worked with us, even to those who worked against us, as all have contributed to the abundance we now know. All of us carry a debt. All of us, no matter how powerful or wealthy, all carry the basic elemental humble debt of gratitude to someone else.
Most importantly we all owe a debt of humble gratitude to the God of life and love, who called forth the light of being from out of the absolute dark nothing of empty space and in one great flash, filled the void with the being of cosmos. All light, matter and space in between, came into being in one instant “bang”. All which led to the fire, earth, air and water that is earth and drew forth the long combinations of elements, star dust, into which the Spirit of Life found breath and life, through endless commutations, until humans stood up for the first time to gaze into the stars above and wonder the mystery of what they felt in their chests as they tried to take in the vastness, feelings of awe, beauty and in one particular breath, love. And with this first breath of love, they felt connected; they felt God, not as an explanation but as a realization.
Eventually, the ancient stars’ being and ending came together again to live transformed in our universe, our ancestors, our parents and each other. Stars were born to die so to give way to, and feed our galaxy and universe, the elemental substance and energy for their formation. Beings of light, we are literally beings of light. Born so long ago from God’s first light of creation, born from the light of the Sun, and to live in the sunlight until we will die in the light of the Sun. Eventually too Earth will be consumed in the light of our Sun’s last gasp. We are but dust and dust we will be. But, also we are light and light we will be.
This is the debt of gratitude we must accept, humbly and joyfully lived, if we are to live healthy, loving, life giving lives: that we are intertwined with each other, as are all things in heaven and Earth, set into being to culminate in the love of God found in loving each other. When we forget this, and worship ourselves, our desires, accomplishments, or treat this Earth and people as possessions, we invite disasters of suffering, both personally and globally, and we will perish by our own hands.
In the simplest of Christian terms, if we are to enjoy the fullness of life, we must first bear the cross of humble gratitude.