Into fields of joy

A dozen years ago, I kept a thanksgiving journal. It was all Garrison Keillor’s idea in a 2003 Christian Century interview. “Gratitude is where spiritual life begins,” he said, and then offered a lesson in daily thanks.

“Thank you, Lord, for this amazing and bountiful life and forgive us if we do not love it enough. Thank you for this laptop computer and for this yellow kitchen table and for the clock on the wall and the cup of coffee and the glasses on my nose and for these black slacks and this black T-shirt. Thanks for black, and for other colours.”

And then he said, “I could go on and on and on. One should enumerate one’s blessings and set them before the Lord. Begin every day with this exercise.”

Terrific idea, I thought. And then he made a promise:

“. . . you will walk through those gates of thanksgiving and into the fields of joy, break through the thin membrane of sourness and sullenness – though we should be thankful for that too, it being the source of so much wit and humour – and to come into the light and enjoy our essential robustness and good health.”

Some people might question my listening to Garrison Keillor instead of John Calvin or St. John of the Cross. But I think what prompted me to walk that path was what I read between the lines: Keillor wasn’t bound and determined to save my soul, only to make my life – and his and your – somehow better, “to enjoy our essential robustness.”

I was convinced. I determined to try it – and I did, starting every day with thanks for a whole year, writing it all down.

I’ve just been paging through all that thanksgiving, and I came on this.

Day 135
The sky was perfectly clear when I left the house, stars shining so brightly I swear you could hear them. That’s good, because a clear night sky promises a bright sun; but it’s also not so good if you’re lugging a camera: clouds create drama, and good landscapes, like good stories, require conflict, some roughing up.

What seemed a single cloud moved quickly east when I was out in a field, awaiting the dawn. That’s when I realized the sky was going to fill, and fast.

And it did. That single cloud grew into a shield that itself reflected the rising brilliant sun. The two of them – sky and sun – burnished everything. I stood in a Midas world turned to gold. There I was in a bean field, but I was there at exactly the right moment.

This morning it’s for that marvelous light show I am thankful.

That was my morning thanks a dozen years ago. When I read through it now I can’t help thinking how easy it seemed to be to see God’s hand in everything – and how hard it might be today to remember to think that way again.

I doubt we come from the factory as a fountain of thanks. Thanksgiving takes discipline, even if you count things as ordinary as a momentary glow in a bean field.

Somehow it’s work to think in thanks, even though here in God’s world it’s marvelously easy. You don’t need a camera. You just have to look, I guess, and smile. Robustly.


  • James is a retired Professor of English and the author of more than 40 books, most recently Looking for Dawn (2018).

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