Dear John ~ 21 November 2016

Dear John,

Well, you should have all the far-flung children home now, and I know you’re taking the week off. I bet you guys will see a pile of movies and eat more than a pile of food. I think one of the signs of mature friendship is taking genuine joy in your friend’s joy. I’m grinning ear to ear thinking of the swell in your chest when you woke this morning (at 4:30 or so, I imagine?) and remembered what these next few days bring. I bet even ol’ Jack had an extra spring in his step when he trotted out into the frosty cold this morning to do his business.

I always love this turn. Thanksgiving: the week of thanks. Last night, I met with a few folks who do dinner and swap stories on Sunday evenings. We usually open with the evening hours, but this week we took a cue from one of the refrains from the Psalms (“God’s steadfast love endures forever”) and prayed our own words of gratitude. Sometimes, you try this sort of thing and it feels forced. Sometimes you try it, and there’s a little there but it dies out quickly, which is fine. Last night, however, the gratitude kept coming and kept coming. I actually didn’t have much to say myself, but I soaked up all the thanks around me.

Gratitude releases something in us, I believe. It’s an important discipline. When our heart is fearful or cold or stodgy, when we feel resistant toward others or suspicious or envious, gratitude somehow shakes some of this loose – or starts to shake some of this loose. Today, I’m thankful for the Mocha Irish Cream Cake with Irish Cream frosting Miska made for my birthday. I’m thankful for two boys who kept checking in with me about my birthday, wanting to make sure I was enjoying myself and that I knew they loved me. I’m thankful for this perennial with blazing red-orange leaves that sits right outside the window where I write; yesterday the wind was whipping these fiery leaves back and forth and for a split moment, I was alarmed because I thought there were flames in front of our house. I’m thankful for Rick Bass’ Winter that I’ll be diving into soon. I’m thankful for this massive pile of wood from our downed Ash in the front yard and for how I’m going to feel like a gen-u-ine Lumberjack splitting these logs. I’m thankful I have you for a friend. I’m thankful for a handful of other friends, men and women who are dear to me and who help me stay eyes-open in this world. I’m thankful to God who gives all these good gifts and so many more.

And you know, today, I want to say how thankful I am to the folks who read our words. It’s strange sometimes putting these letters out here in the open. We write these letters to one another, but we also offer them in this place because we hope others might find them helpful or encouraging. All of us who write need folks who actually read what we offer and think it’s worth something. We need folks to buy the books and share us with their friends, folks who give us a thumbs up every now and then and tell us to keep at it. I’m thankful for those folks, and I know you are too.

So we’ll watch some of the Macy’s Parade Thursday morning, and I’ll remember my Grandma Oden and how I’d watch it with her and then when I lived far away, how I’d call her to make sure she had it on. Then we’ll suit up for the famous Collier Turkey Bowl football game, with neighbors. Then we’ll gorge ourselves on ham and stuffing and honey apple cake (no turkey for us) and say our thanks. We’ll watch a little more football, eat a little more food, say a little more thanks. It’ll be grand.

 

Your Friend,
Winn

The Whole World a Eucharist

enchanted-forest
One of the many enchanted graces in Glacier NP

Hiking in Montana last week, the lushness enveloped me, the velvety green moss, the towering Hemlocks. The rush of frigid water cut through tight canyons while austere granite peaks sliced into the sky, dusted in white as if some heavenly baker sprinkled confectioner’s sugar across the ragged edge. Without planning to do so, I would find myself still, watching and listening, hushed, as though I were answering the monk’s bell calling me to divine hours. Over and again, I found myself uttering the most basic prayer: Thank youThank youThank you.

Eucharist (or Holy Communion) means thanksgiving. It is, from beginning to end, a prayer of thanks. Thanks for Father, Son and Spirit. Thanks for the life we’ve been given. Thanks for love that holds the world. Thanks for the healing promised for any of us who will have it. Thanks for the hope that we are not alone. Thanks for the beauty of those who are gathered at this table of mercy alongside us. Each Sunday, we find ourselves (whether we feel like it or not) receiving these small graces culled from our everyday world and uttering the most basic prayer: Thank youThank youThank you.

But the Eucharist, with its table of hewn oak or pine, with its bread of golden wheat and fresh oil, with the wine squeezed from plump red grapes, tells us that the good things of this earth are the very elements that lead us to God — these are the very parts of this good world that will find, with us, their healing in God. The Eucharist on Sundays reminds us that the whole world is a eucharist, a holy thanksgiving. There are places of such enchantment, such rawness and mystery and joy, that to simply walk their hallowed paths is to participate in a prayer of gratitude. On such holy ground, we inhale the incense of pine and western red cedar, we drink from the cup of wild rivers singing a powerful song, we eat the bread of so many beauties, so many. We really can’t help ourselves: Thank youThank you.

I know a woman most dear to me who, for a season of her life, could only pray while standing on solid ground, among the trees or touching those fresh green shoots pushing their way through the brown dirt. Some might think she was straying too far. I say she had learned to receive the gift. She had learned to say thank you.

Wink and Say ‘Thank You’

Frosted-Tree-Tops

There are moments when you experience a deep settledness, a generous contentment, with your life. You find yourself at ease or you realize that the laughter’s flowing free or maybe you recognize how, with almost no effort on your part, your joy exudes an uncanny resilience. And what I find most delightful with these generous flashes is how I can never tell you exactly why they’ve arrived, what wind blows them in – or even what wind will eventually push them on. I did not manufacture this grace, and so I know it’s foolhardy to cling tight. It’s my happy lot to just enjoy the gift, to wink and say thank you.

I’ve experienced this ineffable joy a time or two over the past couple weeks. Our life is good, but we’ve had no fewer troubles than normal. If anything, our world has added a few stress factors that would typically leave me sucking wind. And yet, here and there, I’ve been overcome by a profound gratitude, an awareness (even if only for a few hours) that I am alive in this good and magnificent world with people I love, doing work that, though small and ordinary, matters to me and maybe to a few others as well.

For so many good gifts, I want to say my thanks. There are sorrows in this world, but there is also much goodness, much beauty, much possibility. As often as the gifts come, I want my thanks to come just as fast. “Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth,” say Barth. “Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.” Like thunder follows lighting, yes indeed.

In this week when we turn our heart to gratitude, I want to join the chorus. I also want to thank those of you who read my words. Perhaps it sounds cheeky for a writer to say thank you for reading, but what else would we say? And particularly if we really mean it? So, thanks to those of you who land here regularly, those who drop a line every once in a while. It matters.

Powerful Thanks

Gratitude must be one of the most subversive powers on this crusty, old planet of ours. Not a feigned indebtedness or a back-handed form of social or relational manipulation. Just a plain, simple: Hey, I want you to know that I saw what you did – or I see who you are. I see that you’re trying your best. I’m thankful.

What would happen if President Obama strolled over to the GOP on the Hill and (removed from the cameras and without any follow-up request) said, Fellas, this is a fat, hairy mess we’ve got ourselves into, and tomorrow I’m sure I’m going to do something else you hate, God knows you make me want to put my fist through the wall most every morning. But for today, I want to tell you that I know you’re grinding yourself into the ground here. I know you love our country. Thanks. Or what if McConnell sneaked over to the Oval Office (maybe with a bottle of his local Kentucky Bourbon wrapped in a red bow and tucked under his arm) and said, Pres, you know that most days I think you’re a loon, but that’s not the whole story. I see you’re going grey and burning the candle at both ends while the whole world watches. I know you’re doing what you believe in. I know you love America. Thanks.

Yes, yes, I’m dreaming. But wouldn’t it be something?

Several days ago, I told Miska that if our boys ever figured out what they could get out of me if they consistently approached me with gentleness and gratitude rather than demands or arguments, we’d be ruined. They’d take us right to the poorhouse. I’m a softie, and simple gratitude – a hey, dad, thanks for working so hard and loving us so much – would make me putty in their hands.

We have a week now to simply give thanks. Tell people they mean something to you, that you see them. Offer God a simple thank you. Look your lover in the eye and say, If another gift never comes, you are enough.

I don’t know exactly what this gratitude will yield, but it will do something. I know it will.

 

A Prayer for Around the Table

Prayers around the table, everyone holding hands while keeping one eye squinty-open in the direction of the turkey or ham or turducken or tofu, is a sacred moment. Here’s a good prayer, if you’re looking for one:

Give us this day our daily bread, O Father in heaven, and grant that we who are filled with good things from Your open hand, may never close our hearts to the hungry, the homeless and the poor; in the name of the Father and the of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. {The New Clairveaux Abbey}

Or simpler fare from yours truly:

Thanks, God. This is grand.

 

Like Thunder Follows Lightning

gratitude.rockwellThere are few things more subversive in this world than someone who sees grace in every corner, who chuckles easy and loves easy and has both whimsy and mirth mixed in with even their honest assessments of the way things truly are. These glad-hearted people have discovered that thankfulness is not merely a discipline but the only sane way to live in a world offering so much gritty beauty, so much possibility for love, so many joys.

These unlikely provocateurs have not caved to rose-tinted glasses or withdrawn from bitter reality. They simply know that sorrow does not finally own the day. They do not ignore the pain. Quite the opposite, their heart has grown so large that the life they know possesses the courage to see all that is wrong and yet has strength enough to gather the afflictions into itself, allowing love to tend to the wounds. They know that joy, not misery, holds the ace. And they are so very, very thankful.

“Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth,” say Barth. “Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.”

A Tad More for Thanksgiving

One more thought: gratitude and generosity are close kin. Gratitude teaches a person that there is no need to hoard, there’s always enough. Gratitude knows that generosity is everywhere, ever ready to surprise us.

Gratitude is the old grandpa, watching on as we kid-os throw our temper tantrum because we can’t have the last cookie. Are you finished? Grampy Gratitude asks. I was thinking, if you’d ever stop kickin’ and screamin’, I’d take us all for banana splits.

Gratitude

Show me a grateful person, and I’ll show you one who’s lived well, loved well, one who’s laughed with children and marveled at full moons.

A grateful person has learned how to give gifts and (perhaps more importantly) how to receive gifts. You can learn to bluff your way through gift-giving, you can offer the gift and still stay in charge. However, receiving a gift – that’s another thing altogether. When someone looks straight into you, beaming. Or hugs extra long and extra tight. Or offers you something you know cost them dearly. All these require a humble grace to receive, with only a thank you to offer in return.

This past birthday weekend, Miska said to me, I hope you can receive the love that people who care about you are going to give you. I hope you can just receive it with open arms. She said this because she knows it’s not easy for me, to be humble and receive. I still have fondness for the illusions that I’m the one who takes care of others, I’m the one who doesn’t need anything. What a bunch of rubbish.

This week, we’re given a stretch of days designed for exactly this purpose: to be grateful, to receive, to give thanks. Let’s give ourselves to gratitude not only around the table (though there as well, by all means). Let’s also do it when we’re playing with our kids and reading good words and breathing crisp air and receiving the smile of a stranger. And let us all turn to God with the deepest prayer I know: Thank you.

And I do want to say – I’m grateful for you joining me here, chewing on these words over the past year. I do love to give away the words. Thank you for receiving them.

Gratitude in Pain and in Joy

I wrote a Thanksgiving piece for the digital edition of Everyday Woman Magazine, even though I am not, in fact, an everyday woman.

Here’s a tease:

Sometimes – surely – Scripture doesn’t mean exactly what it says. Ephesians places one of those difficult phrases in front of us: “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…” (5:20). Everything? Really? Am I to give thanks for the divorce that rips apart a family? A disease that shreds a body? Does God actually desire me to be grateful for the evils of slavery and genocide?

{click here if you want to read on}

Happy Thanksgiving to all!