I was touring Arches National Park in Utah several years ago with some friends. Everywhere we looked we saw incredible rock formations: graceful arches, soaring spires, towering pinnacles, each one clamoring for our attention, each one eliciting our awe.
After several hours we were literally exhausted by the veritable “onslaught of beauty.” As we were driving out of the park, one of my friends gestured toward a huge rock along the side of the road, a somewhat “ordinary” one compared to some of the others we had seen, but, in truth, a very extraordinary rock. He said, “Now if that rock were suddenly lifted up and transported to central Ohio, people would come from miles around just to see it. But here, among so many other incredible rocks, it barely gets noticed.”
My friend was right. His remark made me wonder: is too much of a beautiful thing too much for us humans to take in? Similarly, is too much of a good thing, too much for us? Is our inclination to take things for granted our human way of coping with too much beauty, too much goodness, too much truth? One of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson begins with these words: “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” Dickinson is not advocating lying. She is saying that too much truth is “too bright for our infirm eyes.” Too much truth would make us blind.
The truth is: Existence is extraordinary! It is wonderful, marvelous, incredible, amazing, astounding, awesome. (I’m running out of words. I might have to grab my Thesaurus!) If we were really aware of the wonder and beauty of existence, of life, of the flora and fauna of planet earth, of the deep goodness in other people, of the deep goodness in ourselves—we wouldn’t get any work done! We would be stumbling along in a religious trance caused by the overwhelming realization of God’s goodness reflected everywhere. Maybe our taking-things-for-grantedness is a coping mechanism. It insures our survival. (Someone will cook the turkey!) But I think we must break out of our dullness on a regular basis and really experience existence—or we miss out on life. We miss out on God too!
In Betty Smith’s book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, we read: “Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first time or the last time. Then your time on earth will be filled with joy.” There’s real wisdom in that. If you knew, for example, that tonight was going to be the last pretty sunset there would ever be, wouldn’t you make time to watch it? Or if you were hearing a flute for the very first time, wouldn’t you be enthralled by its strains? Or if this strawberry pictured below was the first strawberry you had ever seen, wouldn’t you marvel at its shape, texture, and color? Wouldn’t you take time to savor its sweetness?
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. I am very grateful that our country and many other countries have set aside one special day a year to focus on giving thanks to God for all our blessings. It is a day that reminds us to take nothing for granted. President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a National Holiday on October 3, 1863 in the midst of the terrible Civil War. The timing of his proclamation is a lesson for us. We don’t have to have a perfect world to give thanks. We don’t have to be without pain or sorrow to be grateful. On this day, no matter what our circumstances, we pause to appreciate or re-appreciate everything like family, friends, food, sunlight, water, clean air, music, cats, dogs, whales, trees, flowers, apples, rocks, and stars. And we give thanks to God for all these gifts—especially for the gift of being itself.
Here is a beautiful thanksgiving song called “Thankful” by Josh Groban. It is my way of saying thank you to all of you for reading and responding to my blog. I am grateful for each one of you! (Just click on the song and enjoy.)
What are you particularly grateful for this Thanksgiving?
Try looking at something as if you were seeing it for the first or the last time? Did anything happen when you did this?
NOTE: Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. I will post my Advent reflection on Sunday, November 30 instead of on Monday, December 1.