Gratitude for the Work of Loving the World

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 5:10 am

Gratitude for the Work of Loving the World

“I am thankful for many things. First of all, I am thankful for the world, because without it we would be floating in outer space. Second of all, I am thankful for mom and dad and sister, because they help me. Last of all, I am grateful for nature because if we didn’t have nature it wouldn’t be pretty. I am thankful for all of these things.”

That’s what one of my bright, kind, adventuresome granddaughters wrote a few years ago (at age 6) in response to a school assignment. On Thanksgiving Day that year — with three generations of our family at the table — we read her words aloud as our blessing. As we did, I thought, “Naiya speaks for me!” Like her, I’m grateful for simple gifts:

  • For the ground on which I stand — whether it’s the kind that grows greenery or the kind in which my soul can take root.
  • For the people who’ve supported me — from those who know me well and love me nonetheless to strangers who offered help in a moment of need.
  • For the natural world, which really does make things pretty — a beauty to which I often turn for solace, healing, inspiration, and peace.

The only way to keep a gift alive is to pass it along. So on Thanksgiving Day this year — in a world where so many have been deprived of so much — I’ll give thanks by finding more ways to share the abundance I’ve been given.

I’ll also re-read this Mary Oliver poem. If I could embrace the idea that “My work is loving the world” — and spend my days living more fully into that job description — I’d be giving thanks not just with my words but with my life.

Messenger
by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
          equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
          keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
          astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
          and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
          to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
          that we live forever.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.