by John McLarty | 27 November 2019 |
My heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
This morning, the day before Thanksgiving, I was on a park bench on the west side of Dorr’s Pond, a tiny lake in Manchester, New Hampshire, watching for the sun to rise behind the lace of white pines across the pond. It was cold, just below freezing. I sipped my very dilute, very hot coffee and nibbled on two cookies I had brought. And I gave thanks.
I gave thanks for our grandkids, the reason for our cross-country visit. I gave thanks for the clothing that was keeping me warm and had kept me comfortable even on mornings when I sat in the rain. I gave thanks I had a house to go to when I finished my hour of contemplation.
Nibbling my store-bought cookies, I gave thanks for the apple pie Karin had made Sunday night and thanks for the pumpkin pie she was going to make this afternoon. And for the whipped cream and ice cream accompaniments to said pies.
When I was younger, feast days—Thanksgiving and Christmas—were occasions of eager gluttony. The food was so-o-o-o, so good I couldn’t help myself. I gobbled everything in sight with wild abandon until I could hold not another bite.
Nowadays, I eat slowly. Every bite is a feast whether it’s store-bought cookies or homemade pie. Every bite is redolent of the best days of childhood and a foretaste of heaven. Sitting in the wintery grey this morning, I recalled the pleasure of feasts past and anticipated the pleasure of the feast tomorrow.
Then I deliberately brought to mind a conversation from last week. I was visiting a friend dealing with an inexorably worsening disease. A few years ago, he was ahead of me in every measure of physical prowess. Last week he told me he no longer enjoys eating because swallowing has become perilous. Eating has become an onerous duty, a difficult obligation that sometimes he shirks.
I pondered the gulf between us—my eager anticipation of a feast and his dread of the duty of eating—and the friendship that links us. This Thanksgiving, in honor of my friend, I will eat even more slowly, savoring the pumpkin pie with an ardor worthy of two.
I had walked to the park with ease. I took extra pleasure in the mile because of an injury this summer that for awhile curtailed my walking. I’m glad to be out and about again, with ease. Sitting there watching the tardy sun, I replayed in my mind the story of another friend. He has been coping with a hereditary, degenerative lung disease. Monday he shared that the disease progression lurched downward, requiring him to be on supplemental oxygen all the time. Like me, he loves the out-of-doors. He has spent his recreational life hiking and camping with a camera around his neck. Now, he carefully calculates the length of every trip out of the house to make sure he has sufficient oxygen to make it back home.
This morning I contemplated my privilege in the light of his challenges. Yesterday, I climbed a mountain with the family. I did not fret about oxygen. I go places and do things, figuring sufficient air will be there, always. Sitting in the cold, I inhaled slowly, deeply. Exhaled. Inhaled again, tasting the richness of air deep in my core. I gave thanks. For my lungs, my legs, and my heart. They won’t last forever, but today they’re working really well. And I gave thanks.
I had—and I have—more than enough.
I cannot comprehend life with the constraints my friends are managing. The limits on their physical capabilities and the constraint on life-span imposed by their diseases. I do seek to learn from them. I, too, have a limited life span. My walking and feasting, my breathing and swallowing, are rich gifts, occasions for frequent thanksgiving.
We Adventists call ourselves creationists. Most of our institutional energy surrounding this word has been wasted in debates about the dating of fossils. The really useful question in this context is: why is there something instead of nothing?
Believers answer that question with the word, “God.” God loved, and so God created. God loved, and so God birthed light and space and neutrinos and electrons. God loved, and so God created life. God loved, and so humans exist with our capacity to love and taste and see and smell and hear and touch and create.
There is something instead of nothing. And we, seeing clearly, are awakened to astonishment and wonder. We see a late November sunrise. We taste an apple pie, hear high-honking geese, and feel the sharp bite of snow on our cheeks. We acknowledge that all this did not “have to be.” There was a time when all this did not exist, and now it does, to our great pleasure.
We have enough. We have more than enough. Not more than we can imagine, certainly. Maybe not as much as we would like. But we have enough. Enough for now. Enough to give thanks.
Every morning when I head outside for meditation I take with me a thermos of hot beverage and two cookies. I sip the peppermint tea or dark-roast coffee to keep myself warm. I nibble the cookies. And devote myself to contemplation of the dawn if it is beautiful or, if the sky is dark and heavy, to the contemplation of beloved people and beautiful places stored in my memory. At the end of the hour, I raise my cup and whisper to God. “I have enough, more than enough. Thank you.” Then embodying my words, I pour out on the ground the last ounce of tea or coffee—the “more than enough.”
Some days that final act is difficult. Sometimes I am keenly aware of unfilled hungers, unsatisfied desires, either my own or in people I love. Some days the “more than enough” has not quieted my restlessness. It has not ended my quest. Still, on those days I push myself to acknowledge the truth. Even if a part of me is reluctant, even if a part of me is looking for a different world, still I speak with my mouth and my hands the truth: I have enough. More than enough.
John McLarty is senior pastor at Green Lake Church in Seattle and host of Talking Rocks Geology Tours, camping trips in the American Southwest.