November 30, 2019
My heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Psalm 28:7
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 white pines across the pond. It was cold, just below freezing. I sipped my very diluted, 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 soo-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, I recalled the pleasure of feasts past and anticipated the pleasure of the feast tomorrow. Then I deliberately brought to mind a conversation last week. I was visiting a friend dealing with a progressive disease. He told me he no longer enjoys eating because swallowing has become perilous. For him, eating is 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 I will try to enjoy 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 a friend shared on Monday. He has been coping with a hereditary, degenerative lung disease. Recently, 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. 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.
I contrasted his challenge with my privilege. 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. For my legs. For my heart.
I had–and I have–more than enough and I give thanks.
I cannot comprehend life with the constraints my friends are managing. The limits on their physical capabilities and the constraint on the life-span imposed by their diseases. But I do seek to learn from them. I, too, have a limited life span. They remind me to treasure what is available now. My walking and feasting, my breathing and swallowing, are rich gifts, occasions for frequent thanksgiving, available now but not forever.
Adventists call ourselves creationists. Most of our institutional energy surrounding this word has been wasted in debates over the dating of fossils. The really useful question in this context is: why is there something instead of nothing?
Believers answer the question about why there is something instead of nothing 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.
And we are called beyond the theological/philosophical question to a Christian practice: gratitude.
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. And give thanks. 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. And we give thanks.
The foundation of gratitude is seeing, noticing. One of the most basic Christian practices is giving thanks. We notice the gifts that are ours and say thank you.
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.
Did you notice that theme in our Scripture readings this morning. God sent the manna to Israel and when they went and gathered, they had enough.
When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. 15 The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was. And Moses told them, “It is the food the LORD has given you to eat. 16 These are the LORD’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person in your tent.” 17 So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. 18 But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed. Exodus 16:14-18, NLT
Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” 6 He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” 8 Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. 9 “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” 10 “Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. John 6:5-11 NLT
Food to eat. A bounty. A surplus.
Most of us enjoy a measure of health. Our own well-being highlighted by the difficulties faced by our friends and family. We have enough. For now. For today.
When I am at the Grand Canyon, I try to get to the rim to watch the sunrise. This is kind of hard when I’m with a group and sunrise is very early–during June it’s just a few minutes after 5am.
There is a natural hush as people watch the spectacular vista. I thought about that on Friday morning and again this morning when I was back to my usual spot for meditation in the morning–Ella Bailey Park. The park has a vast, sweeping view to the east, from Mt. Baker in the north to Mt. Rainier in the south.
I found myself wondering that more people don’t come and watch a sunrise at Ella Bailey Park. They travel a thousand miles to the Grand Canyon for the sunrise there. The beauty is worth the trip and the effort to roust the kids out of bed at an unearthly hour and get them out to the rim in time to see the sun rise over the canyon.
But the sun rises here, too. I wish more people could taste its glory. But even if you’re not an early riser, there is beauty and loveliness in your world. Cultivate the habit of noticing and saying thank you.
When I’m outside watching for sunrise on cold mornings, I sip the peppermint tea or dark roast coffee to help keep myself warm. I nibble the cookies. I devote myself to contemplation of the sky, 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 a challenge. 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 stilled my restlessness. It has not ended my quest. On those days I push myself to acknowledge the truth. I do have enough, at least for now, for this day, even more than enough. I give thanks, even if not purely and with my whole heart, still genuinely.
I have enough. More than enough. Thank you.