Gratitude isn’t Just an Attitude!

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a friend and student of mine said to me yesterday, there is nothing like a pithy quotation to capture and help us get to the heart of what matters most in life. And you can’t do much better than Emerson for pithy.  In two sentences, he articulates one of the central challenges of a life of faith, and provides a path toward meeting the challenge. Tons of sources teach and encourage us to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” and numerous practices can help in that cultivation. Yet the task is rendered well-nigh impossible when we confront the painful chapters of our lives.

Before writing my previous post, I had not written for a blog since early May of last year. At the time, though I didn’t fully comprehend it, I was going through a spiritual crisis. It had links to Mitch’s death, but it was triggered by painful changes in my professional life. I had been working for the Union for Reform Judaism as a specialist for spirituality and worship. A reorganization brought that work to an end, and I remained at the URJ with different responsibilities. Happily, the organization accepted my request to remain on a part-time basis so that I could figure out how I would fulfill the interest in spiritual development and wellness. This Center is the result of that time and consideration.

To get to the idea, though, I had to journey through another valley of deep darkness, in which I felt as though not only my profession had been taken from me, but my vocation – my calling – as well. In truth, however, mindfully sitting, first with my pain and subsequently with my yearning led me toward the clarity that allowed the idea of the Center to emerge. The practices which brought me to that clarity – embodied awareness, emotional support, study and contemplation -are those by which the Jewish Wellness Center hopes to help others (and ourselves) continue on the path toward wholeness.

Over recent months, I’ve revisited that time and come to feel tremendous gratitude to the URJ for providing the transitional opportunity in which, while serving in ways which I hope were helpful and meaningful, I could actually discover a new shape of my vocation as a rabbi. The advancement of my self-understanding and a new, deep sense of purpose are the product of the years I spent there and in the pulpit, and would be less clear and passionate were it not for the moments of pain which helped give birth to them.

In some ways, it was easier for me to access the possibility of gratitude in the wake of losing my son. The waves of love, literally from around the globe, produced my thankfulness quite naturally. It was in last year’s crisis, though, that I think I developed a deeper relationship with this quality – this middah – of thankfulness, hoda’ah. It is a learning I will try to retain and engage the next time it is challenged, as surely it will be.

Every Jewish worship service contains the words, “al ha-kol….anachnu modim lach,” – “we thank You. Eternal our God, for everything.” The text doesn’t say, “for every thing,” rather, for “everything,” or “all”. We are invited to pull the lens back from the specific to the big picture, within which – hopefully – we can see the presence of blessing or the possibility of bringing it into being. Through the gift of being able to see, per the teaching of Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, from a “God’s-eye view,” we do have the capacity to experience thanks for all things.


About Rabbi Rex Perlmeter

Rabbi Rex Perlmeter was ordained at HUC/JIR in 1985, and went on to serve as spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Greater Miami and the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. After serving on staff at the URJ for five years, he has gone on to found the Jewish Wellness Center of North Jersey, a practice dedicated to supporting all engaged in "seeking Oneness in body, heart, mind and soul."


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