I'm hosting a small family gathering tomorrow, and yet nothing can keep me from writing this post. At this time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for whatever this creative renaissance is within me that feels like a complete unstoppering of my creativity: words needing to pour forth even though I don't have time, even though it is not convenient, even though, even though...
We were made for gratitude, designed for worship. And that concept requires a separate post, a book really. The evidence of our need, our drive, our hunger for worship is quite literally one of the most pervasive realities in life, yet we often do not recognize it. It manifests in countless life-affirming and destructive ways, depending upon the objects we choose for our worship. It is the proverbial elephant in the room, and we are the people who often "can't see the forest for the trees." What else is the work of all the great seekers, the poets, the artists, and breakthrough scientists, the genius mathematicians, the polymaths, but the desire to find and make meaning, to take the measure of what is the depth and breadth and height of this impossibly beautiful, impossibly heartbreaking, improbable and ineffable world, and to register it in a blaze of revelation? And then to sing forth its praises?
Beneath is one of my favorite hymns, perhaps my favorite. The tune was composed in 1838, and the words hail from 1864, and well, I guess that's about right. If you know me, you know I'm old soul: as in an old, old soul. I sing this hymn as a lullaby to my girls. I play it on our Baldwin piano every Thanksgiving time, and many consider it to be a Thanksgiving hymn. For me, it is a year-round hymn as I celebrate "the beauty of the earth," the "joy of human love," "the wonder of each hour," and "God's grand design" as a pulse, reverberating through my days.
Reflecting on this hymn, I had the thought, just yesterday, that it should be illuminated. Some readers will be familiar with "illumination," that ornate and elegant Western European art of embellishing the edges of manuscripts, especially from c. 500-c. 1600 CE. Most often, scripture was illuminated, and it just occurred to me how lovely it would be for hymns to be likewise illuminated, especially those that celebrate that natural world, thereby lending themselves to nature embellishments: vines, flowers, tree imagery. But most hymns could be readily illuminated. I have commissioned our oldest daughter to illuminate "For the Beauty of the Earth." Our two daughters have inherited a drawing gene that I do not have, so if they are willing, they will be the family illuminators.
Beneath are two examples of some William Blake poetry that has been illuminated.
Finding Gratitude and Joy this Thanksgiving
We approach Thanksgiving knowing that it is intended to be a time of thankfulness. But, then, family dynamics. And cooking stress. And the looming of the Christmas season and the frenetic pace that it means for many of us. And we don't always feel our most thankful on our American day dedicated to the act of giving thanks. So I submit to you a few thoughts, pulled from my quotations journal. I apologize that I can't link to the sources because my note-keeping in my quotations journal has often been scant. But I hope they speak to you.
"When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses." ~Joyce Brothers, American psychologist
The family that drives us crazy? Looking back, at the end of our lives, most of our greatest joys will be those experienced with family. So we should treasure them: annoyances, ill tempers, quirks, and all.
But that is not to leave out or diminish the great importance of our friends, who can be every bit as much family, sometimes even more so:
"I awoke this morning with a devout Thanksgiving for my friends." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
As we gather with family or friends or both tomorrow, consider this:
"So long as we love to serve; so long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend." ~Robert Louis Stevenson
So long as we love to serve. May my mindset tomorrow be one of serving and loving others.
"A palace without affection is a poor hovel, and the meanest hut with love in it is a palace for the soul." ~Robert Green Ingersoll
It matters little what our house looks like or the place where we will be sharing a meal tomorrow. What matters is that love is there.
"Learn to make yourself akin to people... But let this sympathy be not with the mind --
for it is easy with the mind -- but with the heart, with love towards them."
~Virginia Woolf in her essay, "Modern Fiction"
I find this quote from Woolf especially interesting and compelling because I don't see Woolf as a particularly lovey, or touch-feely person, and yet, here she is, exhorting us to love others from the heart.
Determine to cherish your time celebrating tomorrow, seeing it not just as another day, another holiday to check off for the year, but as a hallowed moment that, when embraced with service and love in mind, can provide emotional, mental, and spiritual sustenance for years to come.
"...not only with the sense
of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment, there is life and food
For future years." ~William Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey" II 62-5
Enjoy Some Favorite Thanksgiving Hymns of Gratitude