Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for he is good:
the Lord whose kindness endures forever…
From Psalm 100:4-5
This past week, my morning walks have not been as entertaining as they were in early November. The cold temperatures challenge my ability to dress appropriately. I struggle to layer myself lightly enough to engage in a brisk walk, but heavily enough to stay warm for the hour I spend outdoors. Once outside, I’ve discovered that the late autumn wind and diligent neighbors have removed most of the leaves along the way. I no longer enjoy the opportunity to crunch and crackle them beneath my feet as I amble along. The good news is that the late November sky provides plenty of opportunity for contemplation. The other day, the blue eastern sky glowed with bright sunlight while ominous charcoal thunderheads filled the sky to the west. It occurred to me that there was a great story here, until a couple of leaves distracted me.
These stubborn leaves seemed to cling to otherwise barren branches with all of their might. As I continued on, I noticed that, in spite of the wind that battered and shook them, several determined leaves held tightly to the trees they called home. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined these leaves laughing in the face of the cold wind and giving thanks for every additional second that they were able to hold on. These stubborn leaves had lived their lives to the full as best they could, and they were not about to let go before they absolutely had to do so.
This morning, I found that most of those determined leaves have finally joined their counterparts, swept away by wind and humankind. Only a few remained, stuck at the bases of bushes and fences. As I passed by, I silently congratulated them for a job well done. I also acknowledged that their work on this earth is not complete. They will rustle and settle and rustle again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. Though they will eventually lose their leaf-like appearance to decay, they will enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves, some of whom will enrich my morning walks and repeat their brave predecessors’ stubborn ritual. Oddly enough, these leafy encounters on my treks around the neighborhood have provided me with a renewed understanding of today’s celebration of Thanksgiving.
If you’ve been attuned at church, you realize that we spend a good deal of time listening to Jesus teaching us the ways of his Father. Jesus preached love and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty, and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus tried very hard to convince us that his Father –Our Father– loves us as we are with all of our human frailties. Though Jesus provided a lifetime of good example, he assured us again and again that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus spent his time with the seemingly unworthy, and he shunned the presumptuous ones who would use his acquaintance to increase their own power and stature. Jesus loved the poor in spirit and the materially poor, and he always made time for them. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, stubborn and determined not to let go until he had to let go. I imagine Jesus pondering those brave leaves who held onto their trees as he once did. I imagine Jesus smiling. He knows that just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season, so does his work continue in and through your life and mine.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks for the lessons to be found in the lives of my precious leaves and in the life of my precious Lord. I give thanks for my family, for the blessing they are to me and for the opportunities they give me to share God’s love in a very personal way. I give thanks for my work here at home, at church, in my neighborhood and everywhere that I encounter those God has given me to love. I give thanks for the drab brown leaves who cling to trees and then fall, only to give life in seasons to come. I give thanks for the Christ, our Lord. For it is Jesus who clung to a tree as well that he might give life to you and to me and to all of God’s children. Most of all, I give thanks for the life Jesus lived before embracing that tree. It is this life which teaches me how to live and how to love to the full. What more do I need?
Generous God, thank you for everything. You gifted us with Jesus who revealed your love and mercy in everything he said and did. Thank you also for the leaves and all of creation which remind us of your amazing promises and plans for each one of us.
©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved