A dozen years ago, I kept a thanksgiving journal. It was all Garrison Keillor’s idea in a 2003 Christian Century interview. “Gratitude is where spiritual life begins,” he said, and then offered a lesson in daily thanks.
Thank you, Lord, for this amazing and bountiful life and forgive us if we do not love it enough. Thank you for this laptop computer and for this yellow kitchen table and for the clock on the wall and the cup of coffee and the glasses on my nose and for these black slacks and this black T-shirt. Thanks for black, and for other colors.
And then he said, “I could go on and on and on. One should enumerate one’s blessings and set them before the Lord. Begin every day with this exercise.”
Terrific idea, I thought. And then he made a promise:
. . .you will walk through those gates of thanksgiving and into the fields of joy, break through the thin membrane of sourness and sullenness – though we should be thankful for that too, it being the source of so much wit and humor – and to come into the light and enjoy our essential robustness and good health.
Some people might question my listening to Garrison Keillor sermonize instead of John Calvin or St. John of the Cross. But what prompted me to walk that path was what I read between the lines: Keillor wasn’t bound and determined to save my soul, only to make my life – and his and yours –somehow better, “to enjoy our essential robustness.” (Makes me giggle, that line--but it makes me thankful too.)
I was convinced. I determined to try it – and I did, starting every day with thanks for an entire year, writing it all down.
I’ve just been paging through hundred of those thanksgiving notes, and I came on this.
The sky was perfectly clear when I left the house, stars shining so brightly I swear you could hear them. That’s good, because a clear night sky promises a bright sun; but it’s also not so good if you’re lugging a camera: clouds create drama, and good landscapes, like good stories, require conflict, some roughing up.
What seemed a single cloud moved quickly east when I was out in the middle of a field, awaiting the dawn. That’s when I realized the sky was going to fill, and fast. And it did. That single cloud grew into a shield that itself reflected the brilliant rising sun. The two of them – sky and sun – burnished everything. I stood in a Midas world turned to gold. There I was in a plain old soybean field, but I was there at exactly the right moment.
This morning it’s for that marvelous light show I am thankful.
That was my morning thanks a dozen years ago. When I read through those words now I can’t help thinking how easy it seemed to be to see God’s hand in everything – and how hard it might be today to remember to think that way again.
I doubt we come from the factory as little fountains of thanks. Thanksgiving, I've learned, requires discipline, even when you count things as mundane as a momentary glow in a bean field.
There's something human in us that makes it work to think in thanks, even though here in God’s world it’s so marvelously easy.
You don’t need a camera. You just have to look, I guess, and smile. Robustly.