“God has two dwellings: one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart,” declared Izaak Walton, the 17th century English writer now regarded as the “patron saint of fishing.”
Walton’s walks by the river Dove and along the banks of many other brooks and ponds, inspired him to write “The Compleat Angler,” still regarded as the greatest book ever about fishing. His book combines practical advice on the art of angling with some highly moral and spiritual passages. Walton’s gratitude for God’s gifts, the beauties of pastoral England and the companionship of his fellows shines right through in his book, as admired now as it was when published in 1653.
“Nobody expresses their gratitude about anything or thanks me,” you say. Likely as not, you’re probably right. Try to remember the last time anyone thanked you for anything. It was probably a “Thanks-and-have-a-nice-day,” at the check-out counter from a supermarket cashier or a “Thanks for your order,” from a fast-food franchise. Such gratitude!
Now try to remember the last time anyone thanked you for anything important. It’s a dispiriting cycle: we rarely get thanks, and we rarely give it. Even those of us who try hard not to be thoughtless are often thankless–except perhaps for the one hour a week we spend inside our house of worship.
My suggestion: On one walk—better yet one hike—a week use a few minutes of your time to exercise your gratitude while you stretch your limbs. List everything in your life that you are thankful for, and everything that you enjoy. Contemplate this list on your hike.
Warning: this exercise in gratitude might require considerable spiritual effort, may stretch, to the point of strain, a rarely used muscle. Expressing thanks might seem ever-so-saccharine; to the most curmudgeonly among us, it might elicit a gag response.
And yet hiking with an attitude of gratitude takes us someplace special. The way it helps us is by bringing our life into balance. Just as hiking integrates the body and mind, expressing gratitude integrates what’s all right with our world with what’s wrong.
Giving thanks brings our life into harmony. No wonder scripture, such as this passage from Psalm 92, often describes gratitude toward God as “singing praises.”
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
And to sing praises to Your Name, O Most High;
To declare your loving kindness in the morning.
And Your faithfulness every night,
On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute.
And on the harp,
With harmonious sound.
We can be thankful for possessions and money and yet for the freedom to walk the whole earth, and for the great benefits of our creative spirit, our life and health, we consider ourselves under no obligation to express any gratitude.
By expressing our gratitude, we can hike from feeling stressed to feeling blessed. A grateful thought toward heaven is the simplest of prayers.
Hike with gratitude.