Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the
Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
--James 1:17 NRSV
I’ve got a problem brewing in my house.
One of the local radio stations started playing Christmas music last week, and my wife, who can barely wait until the Thanksgiving dinner has cooled to break out the Christmas decorations, has begun blasting Christmas music on the stereo in our den. My sons and I have begged her to just hold on until the day after Thanksgiving, but my wife is pretty darn stubborn when she has made up her mind. She responds to our pleas, “There isn’t a radio station playing Thanksgiving music, and I want to get in the spirit of the holidays, so I’ll be thankful for Christmas music.”
When I continue to beg her to at least hold off on the Christmas music until I’m not in the room, she gives me the look that she gives me when she wants me to suck it up and get over it and says, “2020 has been a hard year. COVID has caused so many things I love to do during the holiday season to be cancelled, and I need Christmas music right now. I’ll take all I can get.” I sigh and try to block out the sounds of John Mellencamp’s abominable version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”
I get it; I really do. 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year. Even though we made it through the presidential election without a constitutional crisis and rioting in the streets, we are already on to the next crisis—and it’s the same crisis we’ve been dealing with all year—the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions are returning in many municipalities. Schools are returning to fully online classes. Thanksgiving dinners are potential super spreader events. COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising and this winter looks to be as bad as we feared. We all await vaccines to end this sorry chapter of our collective history.
So, if listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving helps you get by, then by all means let the Pointer Sisters sing to you “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” There are certainly coping mechanisms that are more destructive (even if there are few more annoying). I’m just going to throw out there the plea for you to sprinkle some gratitude and thanksgiving in while listening to Jewel nasally butcher “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Gratitude shouldn’t need its own holiday but offering thanks to God once a year before gorging oneself on turkey and falling asleep in a tryptophan coma while watching football is better than never doing so. Every major religious tradition says gratitude is at the heart of connecting with the Divine just as every self-help writer says it’s essential for a healthy and happy life. I believe it is also the best way to cope with a year like 2020. Gratitude is more effective, of course, if we practice it as often as possible.
In her wonderful book on spiritual practices, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes,
“In the same way that I am willing to thank my husband for a gift even before I have opened it—because I trust his love of me—I am willing to thank God for my life even before I know how it turns out. This is brave talk, I know, while I can still pay the bills, walk without assistance, and talk someone into going to the movies with me. My hope is that if I can practice saying thank you now, when I still approve of most of what is happening to me, then perhaps that practice will have become habit by the time I do not like much of anything that is happening to me. The plan is to replace approval with gratitude.”
If you are struggling with being grateful at a time when so many of our routine pleasures can’t be experienced, I offer this poem by Ross Gay to read, meditate and pray over:
If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
I’m not asking for radio stations to put “Come Ye Thankful People Come” as sung by somebody like Taylor Swift on heavy rotation, but I do ask that all of us offer up some gratitude for the next ten days or so.
Grace and Peace,
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