Deep Gratitude

We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds. You say, “I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly. When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm. Selah” (Psalm 75:1-3).

Yesterday I finished another of Kathleen Dean Moore’s books: The Pine Island Paradox. Kathleen is a philosophy professor at Oregon State University—agnostic, but with a heart that resonates with genuine Christian faith. That’s no doubt the reason she was invited to be a presenter at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing this past spring—one of the nation’s premier writers’ conferences
[Go to the bottom of this page to hear a talk by Kathleen at the conference].

Kathleen sees, hears, and feels like I do; so her writing captivates me. Following is her take on gratefulness for the earth, fittingly written about a Thanksgiving Day excursion to the Oregon coast to dig razor clams:

I’m beginning to understand that gratitude is a way of life. Gratitude is a kind of seeing, an awareness of the magnitude of the gift of this earth. To see the world gratefully is to be endlessly surprised by the bare fact of it, its beauty and power and everlastingness. Gratitude is attentiveness. It’s easy to move through the world and never notice how a shifting wind changes the air from salt to cedar, easy to overlook the invisible moon that moves the tides. To be grateful is to stand with stinging eyes and reddening nose in the northwest wind, taking it in—really this, taking it in—the expanse of dunes and dusk and each blade of beach grass drawing a circle on the sand. Gratitude peels the brown flakes from a clam shell and holds it into the sun—the violet glow—and wonders at the ridges on the shell, one for every year, so much like the ripples in creek beds on the beach. [Photo source]

Gratitude is also a kind of terror. The gifts of this world come unbidden and undeserved. Humankind has no claim against the universe for starlight or clams. No one owes us any of this—the air to breathe, the children to fear for, the tides to mark each day, the winter storms. Rain is not a birthright. The world is contingent, improbable, beyond our control: it could be, or not. A small change in a constant, and none of this happens—not the universe, not the clams. If it were to be taken away, there is nothing we could do to get it back, no entitlement we could claim. The gift is a mystery, beyond understanding—why there is something, rather than nothing, and why it is so beautiful.

Gratitude is a kind of rejoicing. Even though it might not have been and may yet not be, the earth is. The sudden awareness of the gift can fill us with joy, a well-being that arrives like high tide, lifting our spirits, expanding our sense of possibility, spreading out calm and shining at the horizons of our lives.

And is gratitude a moral obligation? I would say it is. The obligation is owed to the earth itself. To be grateful is to live a life that honors the gift. To care for it, keep it safe, protect it from damage. Not to discount or ignore it, but to use it respectfully. To celebrate it, to honor the worth of it in a thousand ways, not just in words, but in how we live our lives.  [pp. 231-2]  [You can read Kathleen’s essay on Google books at this URL. Scroll down to page 231.] [Photo source: Steven Simmons & Marti Schmidt]

Followers of Christ can learn from honest agnostics—and all the while pray that their honesty and gratitude will eventually lead them to faith in the God they sense, to turn and finally see the One responsible for the beauty—and existence—of the earth that compels them to worship.

[You can right-click on the photos above to see them larger.]

[Other posts on Kathleen Dean Moore: Hope vs. Hope, The Upside of Death, Nature’s Enchantment, Common and Atoning Grace]