In the midst of crisis, recession, and impending financial collapse, let us turn our heads upward and contemplate grander notions. Consider our position. Compare it with where we’ve been, and where, say, our grandparents and great-grandparents once were. The doom that so recently besets our horizon shrivels in the winds of grace that have borne us up the rise of a centuries-high mountain of blessing. Despite crags in the climb, he who looks down will swoon from the height of our perch. We face beasts beside, fissures afoot, caverns afore, and vultures yet above; yet what can we fear that our Father-Eagle has not lifted, sheltered, shielded us from before?
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm (Ps. 40:2).
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. . . . He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler (Ps. 91:1, 3).
My grandfather lived through the Great Depression. His father had started with nothing. In the days of great-grandfather McDurmon, nearly every seventh child born died within a year. In 1950, 1 in 34. Today, only 1 in every 143. Blessings, gradual. They had no cars, no phones, no internet, computers, etc. They walked, rode horses and wagons. Yet they had fresh bread, apples, pears, hogs, chickens, eggs, milk, butter, land, house, barn, a mule, and homemade wine. They had a home-grown gobbler on Thanksgiving, and they could speak a book on the topic. Excepting sugar and salt, they produced everything on their own land. For a real treat they walked the long dirt road down to the bottoms and veered into the woods. There at the base of burly oaks gleamed the wrinkled smiles of those gnarly gems of the forest floor: morels. We who have tasted, for the mere memory of that blessed savor, Give Thanks.
Our Father, our Giver, our Savior—the God of Provision—He has carried us so far. So far. Far beyond the limp and halt of unaided man, weak even in his imagination of defeating the elements, let alone the enemy, of his own strength. So far, that the foundations of our faithful people shrink to a spec from our vantage; so far that Ararat is but a misty foothill where God resolved to begin afresh. And yet the thanksgiving at Noah’s altar streams the aroma of living sacrifices to our nose today, would we but stop to smell the sweetness (Gen. 8:20–22). Moved by this outpouring of Thanks, God Himself decreed that the earth shall evermore provide:
The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, . . . While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease” (Gen. 8:21–22).
Crises come, yet our God will provide. With our Provider’s promise, what reason can we feign not to Give Thanks? Do we not have enough? More than enough? What scavenging excuse may pretend to raise its scrawny beak that we should not Give Thanks, and that heartily?
Look at your position, and thank God that you have bread, and perhaps even wealth. That your bird is stuffed, and your cranberries are perfectly tart; your belly, too, stuffed, and stuffed well. Thank God for what you may afford. For with full bellies we imbibe football and movies, cart our boys to scouts and our girls to dance every week. That beyond clothing we afford uniforms and leotards and pizza afterwards. Give Thanks for houses and heat, fireplaces and wood, and even money to burn. I remember spending a bitter winter evening at the small country house of a millionaire. His wife was out of town, and we cooked as single men often do: in our relative poverty we enjoyed microwave marina on pasta, and drank beer—fine beer. I’ll never forget when this unassuming specimen exclaimed, “I’m so glad on nights like this, that I have heat!” He was earnest. He could have delighted in a hundred blessings his wealth could bring him; but he admired the simplest. It seemed strange at the time, but I now understand: Give Thanks.
Give Thanks, for churches on every corner, with preachers who—even in a bad year—will still preach the Gospel in a few. Give thanks for, as Herbert finely quoth, “Blessings beforehand, tyes of gratefulnesse / The sound of glorie ringing in our eares.” What Christian cannot feel, at every moment, from the cup of his breast—pressed down, shaken together, running over—the overflow of grace trickling over the knuckles of his God-gripping heart? Tell me.
Perhaps you are not rich. Yeah, but you are blessed; and blessed beyond what so many previous generations could have imagined. We can eat better, drink better, spend better, than any of the past nobility of the monarchical West. In sanitation, science, and medicine we so far surpass the richest Kings of even the nineteenth century that they would be moved to envy. Common men of earlier times fared terribly. One of our learned historians tells of the young Bible scholar Erasmus in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1490s. From his writings, his poor section of the College de Montaigu (where Calvin also went) “emerges as lice-ridden, decrepit and brutal, stinking of open latrines and populated by tyrants. ”1 Even vaunted Cambridge suffers the same image from the time of Newton even to the time of Darwin: streets of filth, beggars, unschooled children; unlit streets at night, filled with murder and prostitution.2 We so romanticize the past that we cannot imagine the alleys of Oxford spilled daily with household sewage. We cannot imagine life like that—because we’re blinded by blessing. Perhaps you have not much; but you are blessed beyond belief.
Consider your position. What Christian would dare not recognize the hand of God in even the meanest of our provisions, and for that morsel, Give Thanks? You, saved sinner, have no right not to give thanks for the slightest bud or kernel.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17).
So, as the evening news can but stream decline; as the perceived sunset of our culture casts long shadows across the valley of discontented millions, let us children of God lift thankful hearts to the Omnipotent Giver, and echo a few lines from the fourth-century Liturgy of St. James: “for with blessing in his hands, Christ our God to earth descendeth . . . That the powers of hell may vanish / as the darkness clears away.” For when “all mortal flesh keep silence,” hushed about its woes and malcontent, and fears and agitations for salvation by man’s withered hand, we may contemplate the cry of those seraphim and cherubim who “as with ceaseless voice they cry / Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord most High!” From this angelic strain in back of our human noise we may draw a lesson: those who know the presence of God cannot cease to praise and give thanks. Could we but silence the rattle of worry, the cry of stress, the hum of struggle; could we but quiet our cares, suffocate our paranoia into the pillow of trust, we might find the space to praise our Creator and give thanks to our Provider.
We may even see Him clearly enough that we would, like those angels, need to “Veil our faces to the presence”; could we be so blessed. Instead, we hide beneath the glum and shuffle of human affairs, beneath the heaving deck of dow-jones-industrialism, under the scaffolds of urban maelstrom and geopolitical unrest, where we can see but faint shimmers of light between the cracks of materialism and spineless piety. We swim about protozoan-like in the pond water of human indifference. It is but a play. We pretend we have a pond as a universe, and we, hidden in its teaming vastness, attempt the Great Escape: that of man from God’s presence. Would we dare, for a minute, turn our gaze upon him, we would be at least shamed if not genuinely moved to Give Thanks.
Make every effort, Christian, to raise your head above the sea-froth of manufactured fears, shed entangling ivies of worldly cares, and lean the trust of your open mouths toward the hand of our Faithful Father. Crisis, breakdown, recession, gloom, despair, they say? Perhaps. Nevertheless, we live better than kings. I shall continue to, as said St. Benedict, Ora et Labora—Pray and Work. I shall find contentment even if I shall find less, and I will Give Thanks, for as our forefather David sang, I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread. All day long he is gracious and lends, And his descendants are a blessing (Ps. 37:25). I shall follow his example, as should you, to trust and Give Thanks.