I headed out for a run on the morning of Thanksgiving Monday. Autumn’s rustling, ochre skirts were sodden from the overnight rain but translucent in the morning sun. Earthworms stretched exposed and vulnerable on the dirt path. Green forests were being patched together with pockets of red and yellow. Autumn after autumn, the Artist takes the same-old and inspires awe.
Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. I’m always a little conflicted with this day where we focus on family, friends, health, and food. It can feel trite and shallow. I am indeed grateful for my family, our homey farmhouse, our community, and the river road. My heart was full and brimming over when we gathered around the table and took turns sharing what we are thankful for. But again, I’m brought to this place where I’m gathering up, not only all this goodness but also all this heartache, and sorting out how to be at a place where I can sit with both in my hands. “I only add to the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks”, (Ann Voskamp).
We set up a harvest display at the church to celebrate this day of thanks giving. I scanned online in vain for a thought-provoking quote to chalk onto the blackboard. Our pastor suggested the text that he would be using in his talk, which was full of potential for thought-provoking lines, but I hesitated using a straight-up Bible verse as it can easily be dismissed or skimmed over. However, Eugene Peterson’s language in The Message has a way of reframing the text, and the line “And cultivate thankfulness” caught my attention.
Cultivate – “try to acquire or develop (a talent, attitude, manner, etc.)” (Oxford Canadian Dictionary). We’re encouraged to acquire a mindset of gratitude. It would seem that gratitude is not a natural aptitude. Why is it easier to point out flaws than it is to accept with graciousness? Maybe pointing out the flaws gives us a sense of being in control rather than being in this place of acceptance?
Cultivation is also an agricultural practice. My farming source said that cultivating the soil breaks it open, exposing the soil and allowing it to warm in the sun. Cultivation is also used as a technique to control the growth of weeds, uprooting them from their parasitic existence. As well, cultivation is used to work the spread manure into a field to maximize its affect and as an act of consideration to the neighbours.
Could it be that cultivating an attitude of thoughtful thankfulness can then cultivate our interior soil? Might mindful gratitude break apart the hard clods of small-mindedness that need to air and warm up? Does recognition of what is and lack of resistance to it open us to a fertilizing affect?
The word ‘thankful’ is often linked together with the word ‘for’. Maybe that’s where I get tripped up. I’m thankful beyond measure for my family, but if I didn’t have family, I probably wouldn’t be saying I’m thankful for my lack of family. So thankfulness, which is often associated with something or someone, can sit outside of that association and be present in lack? Gratitude then need not be related to cause and effect; it seems it can be cultivated as a way of being. It is not a means to an end, but rather a place of vulnerability.
The cadence of my footfalls is rhythmic. A blue jay stirs and raucously sounds the alarm. When I pause to notice, when gratefulness wells up, when I’m present in the welling up, then I feel a sense of being awake to a Greatness that is a gentle whisper in all that is.