By Steven Norris
Traditions. That’s what the holidays are all about. Our family is no different. Over the next week, we will dine on delectable culinary creations made only a few times a year. We will catch up with family members seen all too infrequently. We will bring the forest into our living room, filling it with greenery and a tree for the coming Christmas season.
Can I make a confession, however? One of our family’s traditions makes me cringe and sink down into my chair every single year. (Please don’t judge me too harshly.) It’s that moment around the Thanksgiving table when someone says, “Why don’t we go around and let everyone share what we’re thankful for this year.”
Look, it’s not that I don’t have countless things for which to be thankful. It’s not that I don’t think an intentional focus on gratitude is a bad idea. It just feels so…contrived.
As I prepare my heart for the Thanksgiving season this year, I am drawn to the words of 19th century British poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In her epic poem, “Aurora Leigh,” Browning’s Romantic sensitivity to nature gives voice to a gratitude that truly sparks my own imagination. She writes:
“And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small! / No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee, / But finds some coupling with the spinning stars; / No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere; / No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim: / And, –glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,– / In such a little tremour of the blood / The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul / Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God: / But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, / The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries, / And daub their natural faces unaware / More and more, from the first similitude.”
I know the language is a little stilted, but did you catch its beauty? “Earth’s crammed with heaven.” The presence of the Divine is not limited to formal sanctuaries, beautiful paraments, carefully scripted orders of worship, and pious prayers. The Divine is present to us in the everyday — in the helplessly and hopelessly ordinary.
God shows up in the laughter of children and echoes through the halls of a house. God shows up in a simple greeting card to remind the homebound that they are not alone. God shows up in the wrinkles bunched up at the corners of a pair eyes and reveals the smile hiding behind the mask. God shows up in small acts of kindness and compassion, red kettles, twinkling lights, beautiful music, a cozy fire, and a fresh pot of coffee.
This Thanksgiving, I hope I can stop munching on my blackberries long enough to notice the bush afire with the Divine presence. I want to stop long enough to take in the countless ways the Spirit is calling my name and beckoning me to a different way of being in the world. If we could each pause in that same way, my hunch is that we would have plenty to share around our Thanksgiving tables this year.