When I first moved back to the United States after living in poor monsastic Buddhist communities in Nepal and India for two years, I was amazed at how much people took for granted here. I remember my reaction when I heard a family member complain about the fact that there was no longer any hot water for a shower…this after three or four people had just taken hot showers that morning. For me, the fact of any water at all coming out of the faucet was a cause for glee – I had long before learned in Dharamsala never to put the toothbrush with toothpaste on it into my mouth before making sure there would, in fact, be water that morning. (Trust me – I can tell you from experience that walking around with a mouth full of dry toothpaste is not pleasant.)
I thought of that when I read today’s first Mass reading from the Book of Numbers, in which the Israelites are complaining about their menus. Bored with eating manna day after day, they lament about their sorry situation.
The Israelites, remember, had been enslaved in Egypt. God delivered them from slavery. Then they complained they were hungry, so God sent manna. Now they are complaining about the manna. You get the impression listening to this reading that if God responded to their complaints by sending something else for them to enjoy, it wouldn’t be long before they complained about that.
David Steindl-Rast, in a wonderful video, talks about grateful living. That means, he says, that
every moment of your life you practice gratefulness. You practice awareness that everything is gift, everything is gratuitous, and if it’s all given, gratuitously given, then the only appropriate response is gratefulness What we really want is joy. We don’t want things. We don’t want to accumulate things. We forget that, and so gratefulness can help us see that, can help us realize that.
In the absence of grateful living, whatever we have is not enough. We always want more.
But if we practice grateful living, we don’t complaint that there is no hot water after it has been used for some period of time, we are grateful there is water at all. If we practice grateful living, we don’t complain about the sameness of the manna, we give thanks that we have food to eat. If we practice “awareness that everything is gift,” then we have enough, not matter that is.