Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Morning Thanks--Numbering our Days

The official tally claims this is blog post number 2002. Whether I've actually created 2000 posts is debatable, I suppose. The Sunday Meds were written years ago, when most people my age may well have considered a blog an intestinal obstruction. When I knew I'd be out of town, I've used stories--lots of them. Do they count?

But I remember starting this whole thing. I'd just returned to full-time teaching after several years with something less than a full plate, and I knew that having time to write was a gift that got repossessed. I'd just gone through the most productive writing period in my life, and I knew it was over because I would now spend what years I had left in the classroom, teaching my allotted four courses, an allotment that would fill my days and nights. 

Blogging, I thought, was something I could try because it would push me to keep writing daily, to keep creating. Years ago, I'd heard Anne Dillard say at a Calvin Lit Conference that if you wanted to write, you had to--"write, write, write," never stop writing because good writers never really run out of ideas.

I shouldn't have listened. After Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a bona fide masterpiece she wrote at 29, nothing else she's done has reached that level of grandeur--which doesn't mean she hasn't tried. 

For a year before I starting blogging, I'd already numbered my days by keeping a thanksgiving journal for an entire year; and that idea--borrowed from an interview Christian Century did with Garrison Keillor--became the infrastructure, an idea I still think is drop-dead wonderful: the world would be a better place to live if all of us took the time, once a day, to give God thanks for something or other, for anything, for tomatoes or junk drawers. For a time I tried to peddle the idea to publishers because I thought it was so good. None bit.

But daily thanks would give this blog thing I was going to try some reason for existence, a guiding principle that would steer an empty, early morning mind toward something, at least, that could be said. We can, after all, give thanks everyday. We should (that's a Calvinist speaking).

Anne Dillard is right, of course, although not all posts are winners. There is an eternity of ideas we browse through daily in our individual imaginations, an bounty of happenings that are remarkable if we pay attention. There's no end to our thinking, our feeling, our imagining; we may well be more eternal than we give ourselves for being. There's always something to say.

Whether we should or not (that's another Calvinist construction) is another question altogether. I've found something to say since that very first post, August 22, 2007, seven years ago. Seven years doesn't seem like forever exactly, but it was at a time when I could not have imagined where I am today, even though it's only twenty miles down the road.

During those seven years, I ended a teaching career that has lasted 40 years (and why are all these number biblical?); I left the institution that had been my lifeblood since I was something of a pup; we sold our wonderful old house near campus, the place where we'd raised our kids, the basement where I wrote a ton of books; we moved, twice; we actually built a house, the one in whose spacious basement I'm sitting as these words appear magically on the screen before me. I used to have to stand to look out the basement window of our old place; mostly what I saw was grass. Now right beside me, there's a medley of Pella Windows so broad and vast they open up to river flats and far-reaching horizons on a big, broad Siouxland landscape. Ms. Dillard was right--there was always something to say. Whether I should have, this Calvinist says--well, that's another question.

A decade ago already, I decided that I didn't want to become an old poop, and what I'd seen of old poops told me that their infernal grousing grew like creeping jenny from thwarted ambitions and ever-burgeoning powerlessness, commodities that arise, beckoned or not, with accumulating years. I wanted to continue to love, and one means to do that was to work at it (yes, I am a Calvinist), to deliberately look for beauty. Digital photography made that ambition attainable because it didn't cost an arm and leg to shot a roll of film.

The blog offered an opportunity to flash what I'd composed in a photograph. I'd like to think the camera kept me young. Whether or not it did isn't my call, but it did satisfy something in me and I still believe, very deeply, that we're all more sane, more thoughtful, even more humble, when we look and find and see something as beautiful as, well, this shot, from Saturday morning.

Seriously, who would'a thunk that scene merited a photograph? Nobody. But if the sunlight burnishes that stand of frosted prairie grass, and there's a couple of cedars back there for garnish--and the backdrop sky has some personality, some drama, a bit of disorder, however limited and just a touch of pink, voila! 

Who gives a hang, really? I'm never ever going to sell that shot, am I? Nobody's gallery is ever going to ask me for a show; but dang it, on Saturday morning I was there and it was perfectly lovely. It was a gift. I got what I was after.

Calvin says that visions like that one put us on our knees before the Creator who paints a still life at the top of a hill in the valley of the Little Sioux one relatively warm Saturday morning in January, a work of art that wasn't there three minutes later.  We've got to look or we won't see.

They go together--this 2000-post blog I've been doing for seven biblical years, and photography that continues to accumulate in the auxiliary hard drive beside my desktop computer--thousands of landscapes.

How often in the Psalms doesn't David the musician begin a tune with a lyric like this--"Lord, I just can't say enough about your love?" Dozens of times. He knows too damned well that there aren't words sufficient cover the territory. God is the great I AM; and you can't put him in bottle or a lamp or a jpeg. He's bigger than any of us or all of us because he's really everything (that sounds greatly Native American).

I can't get the beauty of the Little Sioux valley I saw on Saturday morning into a camera, no matter how many frickin' megapixels that camera promises. David knows he's got no way to give back to the Lord what He's given him, but that doesn't stop him from singing because it's what we do, we humans--we sing anyway, we hightail it after beauty, we try to say what can't be said, we stay at it, plinking away, snapping pictures, giving thanks.

It's a good place to stop, really: two thousand posts ago it was something new and weird to fool around with, something to keep my fingers on the keys of the computer in my basement office, it was just Stuff in the Basement.
But she was right, Ms. Anne Dillard--there's always something to say. 

For that, this morning, 2000 posts later, I'm thankful.


JoMae Spoelhof said...

Glad you didn't stop! I drop by here most mornings and usually find words to inspire, to make me think a little deeper. Something I'm thankful for! -JoMae Spoelhof

Anonymous said...

Afternoon Advice: We love the Morning Thanks; Don't Stop, Schaap, don't stop......

Anonymous said...

Hey jcs, what am I going to read while eating my eggs and bacon? Romey

Anonymous said...

Psalm 90 ends with the words,"May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us. Establish the work of our hands." As God has blessed you, your words continue to be a blessing to us all. Thank You!

Stacie said...

Well said Jim, as always. Thank you for looking for and sharing beauty - both in your words and images.