Reprinted from "Words of Gratitude: For Mind, Body, and Soul," by Robert Emmons and Joanna Hill, with permission of the publisher, Templeton Foundation Press.

In Judaism, gratitude is a vital component of worship and permeates every aspect of the worshiper's daily life. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the poetry of the Psalms is saturated with thanksgiving to God: "O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever "(30:12) and "I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart "(9:1).

The day starts with the Shema, which begins: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might "(Deuteronomy 6:5). The concluding prayer, the 'alenu, thanks God for the particular destiny of the Jewish people.

Thankfulness for everything is appropriate in Judaism because all things come from God in the Hebrew world view; therefore, Jewish life is filled with this recognition. A prayer is said upon hearing good or bad news, and God is praised for everything. In this way,a divine perspective on life is maintained.

Gratitude has always been central among Christian virtues and appears in classical and modern devotional writings as well as in the Old and New Testaments. In Christian gratitude, God is the giver of all gifts and the ultimate foundation for thankfulness. There is a feeling of indebtedness to the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. God 's generosity provides the model for how Christians are to deal with their own children and with each other.

Jonathan Edwards, the 17-century revivalist preacher and theologian, described two types of gratitude in his classic work, "A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections." He described these two types as natural gratitude and as a gracious or spiritual gratitude. Natural gratitude is thanks expressed to God for the benefits a person has received, whereas gracious gratitude has its source in the knowledge of the goodness of God independent of favors received.

According to Edwards, the "gracious stirrings of grateful affection to God," in which love flows from the heart as a response to the Divine, is one of the surest ways to discern the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person 's life.

Emanuel Swedenborg explained that angels in heaven perceived the gratefulness of worshipers as the sweet odor of incense, such as frankincense, and that this was received as prayer. This is also called the "prayer of saints "and explains the meaning of the passage, "Let my prayer be counted as incense before you "(Psalm 141:2).

In response to questions from Pharisees about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets " (Matthew 22:37-40). These statements indicate both gratitude to our Creator and thankfulness to others demonstrated by our loving actions toward them.

The Holy Koran,which is divided into chapters called suras, repeatedly asserts the necessity for gratitude and thankfulness to God. For example, in Sura Fourteen it is written: "If you are grateful, I will give you more "(14:7). A traditional Islamic saying states, "The first who will be summoned to paradise are those who have praised God in every circumstance." The prophet Muhammad also said, "Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue." True gratitude, it is taught, draws more abundant graces upon the believer.

The performance of the daily Islamic prayers is considered to be one of the "pillars " of the religion. The essence of the prayer is not to ask nor petition God, but to show everlasting praise and adoration to God for life and mercy.

Another pillar of Islam is fasting during the month of Ramadan. This period is intended to lead believers to a state of gratitude. "He wants you to complete the prescribed period and glorify him that He has guided you, and perchance ye shall be grateful "(Koran,2:185).

In Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam, entire book chapters have been devoted to developing gratitude. Different stages of gratitude are explained: the first is gratitude for the gifts received from God, as we would be grateful for any gift; a higher state is attained when one becomes grateful for not receiving gifts or for being delayed in having a hope fulfilled. In this state one sees the blessings that are veiled in affliction. The final state of gratitude is recognizing that no amount of worship is sufficient to express gratitude to the Creator and that even feelings of gratitude are a gift from God. There is gratitude for the capacity to feel grateful.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad