ore than a century ago a devout young poet in chronically poor health lifted up his voice in a thanksgiving of remarkable specificity:
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim. . . .*
I remember the poet’s celebration of unique images from God’s creation each time I walk the greeting-card aisle of the local supermarket or Hallmark store, especially at Thanksgiving. My forays have grown increasingly frustrating in recent years, even with the advent of those pricey musical cards that promise something for both the eye and the ear. Over-the-top sentiments, usually couched in generic expressions of affection or gratitude, are often dismaying and usually misleading: “You are the most wonderful friend a person could ever imagine.” “Hope your Thanksgiving is as happy as you have made me”
—which, when you come to think of it, wishes the recipient a completely unspecified amount of joy.
But then, we buy greeting cards—with their generic sentiments—because we don’t fully trust that we have the words we need, or at least the words that will impress. We want to say something important, and someone else’s words of gratitude are available to rent. Ask any parent, though, which card they would prefer: the handsome $4 kind decorated with ducks and hunting scenes, roses and peonies, or the handmade construction-paper kind with out-of-proportion stick figures and a big yellow sun in the upper-right corner. When we think long and well about the one who will receive our gratitude, we grow increasingly specific, decidedly personal, unmistakably unique.
“All celebration is a thanksgiving that we ourselves have been healed and are healed in the act of gratitude,” a believer once wrote. The impulse to express even a fragment of the grace that is our daily bread is some small evidence that we acknowledge our creatureliness, a sign that we are not the self-made men and women our stories and our résumés pretend. Each of us, by giving thanks, confesses debts we owe to God and to the community with which He has surrounded us.
I lack the clarity and compactness of the poet, but here are some specific thanksgivings I make this year in view of all I owe:
For friends—and others—who disagree withw me, sometimes vigorously, often helpfully.
For believers unafraid of the silences that populate the best conversations.
For ferns and pines, ancient stone walls, and solitary green spaces.
For iPads, iPhones, Skype, BlackBerries, and Droids that let love be seen and heard half a world away.
For disturbing images of loss and need that command compassion and response.
For preachers unafraid of proclamation, whatever their natural reserve.
For glory-shot sunrises that keep me watching for small clouds in the east.
For hymns—and hymn writers—not content with what has been already sung.
For fervent, unmistakable faith on upturned faces as I speak.
For the certainty that Jesus holds all things—including all that troubles me—in His powerful hands.
A word of counsel: don’t borrow these. They rise from just one grateful heart.
Make your own list.
*Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty.”
Bill Knott is editor of the
Adventist Review. This article was published November 24, 2011.