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There is gratitude, and then there is “wondrous gratitude,” a phrase taken from Step XI’s Recipe for Recovery (2015). There is gratitude from habit, and there is gratitude from attention. There is gratitude from the head, and there is gratitude from the heart.

Happy the individual who experiences even a smidgen of gratitude, either given or received. It does make a difference: the dark curtain of negativity parts ever so slightly, evoking smiles that whisper, that chirp, that crinkle otherwise dour jaws. Living with ourselves and others becomes freer from tension, opens worlds of giggles.

For those engaged in psychic cleansing through practicing the Twelve Steps of AA, however, gratitude takes on new dimensions, colors the ordinary with turn-around looks, and tickles belly laughter, at times requiring Kleenex, for tears. In my perception, experiencing “wondrous gratitude” floods the psyche with wordless unconditional love that sings and blows pink soap bubbles that meander, then pop with surprise.

To wrap words around “wondrous gratitude” is one thing, but quite another, to experience it; years of hospice abound with them: the stillness of contemplation, the next right word at my word processor, forgiveness of self and others, guidance through meaningful dreams, savory suppers of Shepherd’s Pie when hungry and other foods, my weekly helper whose expertise leaves her sparkle and willingness upon everything in my home, the next right book, the daily CPA Zoom member response that untangles my self-made knots, my CPA sponsor whose courage demonstrates stellar recovery and challenges me to work harder, the items on my gratitude list at the end of the day, and so much more—all evidence a Higher Power responding to my willingness to learn and change.  

The key to this attitude is unflappable “conscious contact” with Higher Power. His inspiring company leaves me “wondrously grateful”—a foretaste of eternal life.

Colorful butterflies in lavender field.

It was 1957. Near midnight, shivery blasts rattled the convent’s double casement windows and dumped mounds of snow upon blue spruces and towering oaks. Swirling, cracking, snapping sounds rubbed against the erstwhile silence and quickened the steps of hundreds of black-laced low-heeled shoes along the long hardwood floors, polished for the occasion: New Year’s Eve. The swish of long black choir cloaks fastened at the chin heightened the drama.

Further ahead, I made out the great doors of the Gothic chapel opening out to the older nuns who bowed before the Superior, toed the wooden kneelers of their choir stalls, knelt down, and opened their libers. As the procession inched toward the chapel, steam sizzled from occasional radiators affording oases of warmth.

Four months into my postulancy in the noviceship, I watched, bug-eyed, so as not to make a mistake. Finally, I opened my liber with the others and waited for the pitch pipe’s tone from the Mistress of the Choir. After I adjusted my wool skirt on the kneeler, I gazed at the sanctuary, where thick beeswax candles shadowed the altar and other furnishings.

Then a short beep signaled everyone to grab their opened libers and stand facing each other as the Miserere was intoned, a psalm pleading God’s forgiveness for sins committed in the year, 1957. Then, followed another ancient Latin hymn, the Te Deum, heartfelt thanksgiving for its graces.

Just as the tower bell gonged midnight, the Jesuit celebrant began Mass, in union with the praying church all over the world. No matter the blight of racial integration in our country, no matter Sukarno’s expulsion of the Dutch from Indonesia, no matter the world’s excesses—deep Peace’s embrace revealed another realm and we were in it.

I’ve never forgotten that night.

Groups of ghouls, pint-sized pumpkins, princesses, skeletons, and werewolves scan porch lights for treats while moms and dads, with flashlights, watch from sidewalks. Jack-o-lanterns leer into the night, strings of orange lights pierce the gloom, and chilled winds whip banners of witches riding craggy broomsticks. Neighbors’ brazier fires create oases of light, cauldrons hold treats for the costumed, and merriment escalates with the encroaching darkness—and it’s very dark.

Again, it’s Halloween, its hilarity, a distraction from the shivers of winter’s onset. Yet, few know of its ancient origins, even its date, October 31st.

Bands of roving Celtic families, primarily located in the insular countries of Ireland and Britain, depended upon Druidic priests for their spiritual guidance. The resulting rich oral tradition—all committed to memory—included the October 31st observance of Samhain, the Celtic New Year. 

Gigantic sacred bonfires, aflame through the night, signaled the holiday’s beginning. Because the protective barrier to the Other World, the realm of dead and evil spirits, was thin, the Celts donned disguises to conceal their identities. Spirit-crossovers and prognostications intended for the Druids also occurred.

Because the harvest had been completed, the Celts selected choice produce and animals from their fields to sacrifice to the gods, in thanksgiving as Druid stories and other rituals filled the night. A take-home gift from the bonfire was the new flame, to cook and warm their huts until the next New year. That was over two thousand years ago.

The Christianization of these lands brought make-overs, rather than change. In 609 CE, Pope Gregory III reconstituted the observance of Samhain into three parts: All Hallows Eve (Halloween) on October 31st; All Saints Day on November 1st; and All Soul Day on November 2nd. The Celts’ spirituality was easily amenable to this adjustment. 

With them, we hold fast to the light of faith, illumining winter’s darkness: it will pass.

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