Image by Stacy (used by permission via Creative Commons).

This morning I woke up early and decided to start preparing a salad for a family gathering at lunch today. As I sliced the cucumber, a mild aroma refreshed the room like a cool breeze. This simple act reminded me that I am alive and grateful. As I write these words, I am aware of the humor in pausing while cutting a cucumber and lifting up hands in thanks. Simple thanks seems a bit odd in a world of cool cynicism. The overwhelming abundance of our age can blind us to the giftedness of each moment.

I learn and relearn the art of simple thanks from people who have known lack and from times when I suffered loss. Earlier in my life, I had the privilege to serve in a mixed race Pentecostal church among many people who lived at the very edge of survival. I have never been around such joyous, raucous worship. Their joy carried me through a battle of dark depression that threatened to smother me. When I stepped into the services, I felt their delight overwhelm me, and I was jumping and spinning and dancing. I say dancing but I mean tottering. My height and size made me look more like a big drunk bear stumbling around and always on the verge of tipping over.

When I sit with those who have known great suffering, I have been surprised by the simple joy and thanksgiving. Almost twenty years ago, an older man walked into my life as he was entering the twilight of his life. He had lived a hermit life for many years, escaping the pain of his losses from earlier in life. He came to a retreat I hosted on Holy Play and was so excited when we did a finger-painting exercise. At 68 years old, he had never finger-painted. In the years ahead, he entered a second childhood and immersed himself in coloring, music, friendships, and laughter in a way that brought joy to me and all those around us.

I also think of those who have known deep, unshakable suffering like Richard Wurmbrand and Rabia Al Basri. Imprisoned and tortured for his faith under Romanian Communism, Wurmbrand discovered the grace of God at the place where he was weakest and failing. He tells the story of a torturer who started singing. Though in pain, he gave thanks for he had not heard music in years. His descent into the forsaken depths of a dark prison became an entrance into the halls of worship. In the despair of pain and loss, he found the joy of the Lord and love for those who hated him.

Like Wurmbrand, Rabia also knew great pain at the human hands. After her father’s death, she fell into the hands of robbers and was sold as a slave. Years of hardship and suffering gave way to a love for God. This Persian poet and mystic spent her life of suffering and eventual freedom in prayer and thanksgiving. Everywhere she turned, she found the love of God.

Finally, I think of Jane Kenyon. A poet who suffered from depression all her life, Kenyon also gave words to the absolute wonder of being alive. In the darkness of her own pains, she still discovered grace. On this day of giving thanks, may her words inspire afresh that every moment, every breath is gift.


By Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed

on two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe, flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

– Jane Kenyon
from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press, 1996)