Inner Health Made Audible

Luke 17:11-19

Inner Health Made Audible

October 10, 2010

Gratitude is a good thing.  I’m sure most of us have had someone in our life who preached to us the value of thank you notes.  If we didn’t, we should have!  It is one the simplest expressions of gratitude, but one of the most profound in terms of relationship.  I keep on my desk a box that contains all the notes of appreciation I have received from the good people sitting in front of me right now.  I do keep every one of them, and on bad days I pull them out and read them!   

The simple act of saying thanks, whether in a note of appreciation or in person, is a way of connecting in which both parties are strengthened.   I am grateful for your gratitude and that helps me to say thanks to someone else…and so on.   Saying thanks becomes a circle.

The same is true of grace offered before a meal, it is a way for us to connect with God in our gratitude.  By doing so we are strengthened.  There is an old joke about a farmer who was traveling away from home, and stopped at a crowded truck stop diner.  His meal came and he bowed his head and said grace.  The men sitting at the next table found this to be a source of amusement.  They asked, rather derisively, if everyone where he came from prayed before meals.  The farmer paused to think for  a moment.  “Well not everybody…some just dive right in without saying thanks.  We call them – pigs.”  The farmer understood an important distinction between those who return thanks for a gift received, and those who do not.

Jesus is on to something when he commends the Samaritan who returned to say thanks for the healing.  Apparently the Samaritan leper made the connection between Jesus and the divine hand of God Almighty.  He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and offered praise and thanks.    The other nine did not.  What is left unsaid is how each of the nine fared following their cure.  How did their lack of gratitude work upon their health in the long term?  Maybe they felt entitled to the healing, who knows?  But Jesus implies that for the one who returned to say thanks, his cure becomes a complete healing in body, mind and spirit.  For the Samaritan, healing was more than skin deep.

There are medical researchers who would agree with Jesus, in the proposition that gratitude is an essential element of health.  I read an article “How to Boost Your Health with a Dose of Gratitude” on the WebMD site.   Researchers are saying that an attitude of gratitude, throughout the year, will reward us with better health.[1]  And they say that this idea actually goes back 1000s of years.  I excerpt here from that article.

“Thousands of years of literature talk about the benefits of cultivating gratefulness as a virtue,”  says University of California researcher Robert Emmons.  Philosophers and religious leaders alike have extolled gratitude as a virtue integral to health and well-being.  Emmons goes on to say that grateful people have an edge over the ungrateful and are more likely to engage in healthful lifestyles.  They tend to be more optimistic…which boosts the immune system and is helpful for those facing chronic illness of surgery.  Also, an attitude of gratitude helps us to better manage stress.  In a web-based survey tracking the personal  strengths of more than 3000 Americans, researchers noted a surge in feelings of gratitude following 9-11.

From the WebMD article: “How is it that some people manage to feel grateful in the face of challenging life circumstances while others sink into despair?  ‘So much of gratitude is about one’s perspective and framework for looking at the world and at self.  People who tend to be more mindful of the benefits they’ve received tend to focus their attention outward,’  Emmons explains.”

The article concludes by offering these suggestions for cultivating gratitude.  We can cultivate gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal that lists all the good things that have come into our lives.  We can also remind ourselves of those things we tend to take for granted in life, and stop taking them for granted.    We can re-frame difficult situations with a different, and more positive, attitude.

The article did not add the following strategy, but it is clearly indicated in our gospel reading.  We can take every opportunity to praise and thank God, even when –like the farmer in that truck stop– it would be easier not to do so.

These things might sound a little silly when we consider the huge problems in the world, and the terrible difficulties faced by people every day.   But really, what is the alternative? Being cranky and unappreciative? We all know people like that, and we know that it is not a foundation for a happy and healthy life.

“C.S. Lewis, as he explored his new found faith, observed  the Bible’s, particularly the Psalter’s, insistence that we praise and thank God.  He also observed the connection between gratitude and personal well being. ‘I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.  Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.’”  [2]

I love that thought:  phrase is inner health made audible.  Christian writers often note that gratitude and joy are the twin children of grace joined theologically and spiritually.  In Greek they are related linguistically as well because the words for grace, gratitude and joy all have the same root, CHAR, which is a noun that refers to health and well being.   Grace is charis, gratitude is eucharistia, and joy is chara.  What else can we be but grateful and joyful when we consider our life in Christ?

It has been noted that curing is different from healing.  We are  cured when we are rid of a particular ailment.  The nine lepers were cured.    We are healed when we can feel joy and thankfulness for our very being.  As I make my pastoral calls I am so humbled by the expressions of gratitude among those who are living in very difficult situations.    I especially recall a conversation with someone whose happy marriage, a second chance for both,  was cut very short by an untimely death.  The surviving spouse expressed not anger or resentment against God, but only gratitude for the happy moments that were theirs to share.   It was humbling to hear and I’ve not forgotten the power of that expression of praise.

Our book group read a selection by Annie Lamott.  She says that really there are only two prayers and she prays them morning and night.  In the morning she prays, “help me, help me, help me.”  At night she prays “thank you, thank you, thank you.”  That pretty much sums it up.

Let us make our inner health audible by offering God our praise.  It is our best approach to life, and our best approach to God.  In every moment of our lives, let us be the one who returns to say thanks.


[1] http://women.webmd.com/features/gratitude-health-boost

[2] Quoted from Feasting on the Word, Year C, v 4, John M. Buchanan, p165.