A Thanksgiving Excerpt from my upcoming book …

This has been a year of great blessing in my life …

Enjoying life’s simple pleasures with Grace – sharing a cup of early morning coffee, reflecting on a movie late at night, cooking together, taking a walk – even a kayak ride.
Times with our extended family together – including my parents, my brother and his family, and others – birthdays, anniversaries, other milestones.
Watching our kids grow and thrive as adults, welcoming our first grandchild into the world.
Getting good medical care when I got very sick, and after recovering, enjoying health more than ever – swimming, hiking, running, gardening.
How many great books came across my desk? How much wonderful music did I hear? How many important interviews or lectures – in person, by radio or podcast?
How many experiences of worship and wonder?
How many fascinating people did I meet in my travels?
How fortunate am I to write and speak for such dedicated and open-hearted, deep-minded people, all around the world?
Time alone – enjoying God’s sacred creation, finding myself in the middle of a school of dolphins or under a dozen graceful birds circling, watching the simple awkward grace of a lumbering tortoise or seeing a pelican plunging and lunging into the sea for a meal, watching precious strangers in an airport or writing on a plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean as a new day dawned.

It’s interesting: the more we are aware of how we have been generously blessed, the more generously we want to pass on the blessing. In that spirit, here are a few paragraphs from my upcoming book, appropriate to Thanksgiving day:

[Want a good place to start with gratitude? Try your own body.] When I want to practice thanks, I can start with my toes – which, by the way, are under-rated until you break one as I did recently, and then you realise, limping, how much you depend on all ten every day. So, I can be grateful for working toes, then for working feet, then for mobile ankles, then for strong calves, then well-lubricated knees, and so on. Each part of my body that functions – that doesn’t wrack me with pain, that makes possible other benefits and pleasures – can be counted, enjoyed with gratitude, not taken for granted.
Then, I can continue my practice of gratitude with physical possessions. I can start outdoors – the landscaping I enjoy, the pleasure of having a garden, the trees on my property that bring me such joy, the car in my driveway with all its features – good mileage, a good sound system, air conditioning, and so on. Then I can work my way room by room through my house, from basement to attic. Recalling my friend Mary’s mental exercise, I can imagine my home being levelled by a tornado or flood, and sifting through the wreckage, finding one shirt, salvaging one photo, rescuing one piece of furniture. How glad I would be to have that one thing! In my gratitude exercise, I realise that I do have all these things, and I can turn to God to share my joy.
I can then extend my practice of gratitude to my family, each member, one by one. As I shared previously, one of my adult children survived cancer as a boy, and so my wife and I experienced, day after day, the realisation that the child we had that day might be gone from us a year later. Although cancer took a lot from us, by stimulating gratitude and treating the Big Yellow Taxi Syndrome, it gave us far more than it took.
From my body to my possessions to my family, I can continue my practice of gratitude by moving out to other people – friends, pastors, colleagues. Then I can take it a step further – institutions like the courts, the police and other security forces, government and its many important duties, sports organisations, the music industry, entertainment. Every week or so, I’ll hear a song by one of my favourite musicians – Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, David Wilcox, Keith Jarrett – or I’ll see a comedy routine by Steve Martin or Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart, or I’ll watch a great film or enjoy a good sporting event, and I’ll breathe out a simple thanks: Thanks, God, for the chance to be alive at the same time as these amazing people, to enjoy their talents, to watch their development over time. Thanks.
My practice of gratitude can continue expanding outward … to those elephants and giraffes, those thrushes and horseshoe crabs who are my neighbours on this planet. Mountains, rivers, oceans, plate tectonics … I can ponder each one while holding thanks open to God like a hand.
The other night, I was experiencing a bout of insomnia, so this is just what I did. I brought the blessings of my life to mind, one by one. I didn’t name them; I just pictured them while holding thanks open before God. I pictured what I had eaten for dinner a few hours earlier. Then I pictured the farmers who made it. Then I thought of all farmers everywhere, my mind quickly imagining scenes of rice paddies and wheat fields and vineyards and ranches and aquaculture ponds, from America to China to Argentina to Russia to Uganda to Canada. Then I pictured the blessings of soil and sun and rain, which got me thinking about the water cycle and sunlight and the solar system and the galaxy.
And soon, my mind was dazzled with a sense of the one big thing we call the universe, and – this might sound silly, but it might not – I felt a profound gratitude not just for the gifts that pertain to me and my life here and now, but for the gift of … everything, everywhere, always. Instead of seeing the universe and its many gifts revolving around me as, sad to say, I normally do, for a few minutes, I saw myself as one gift within the larger gift that we call creation. And I felt thankful, not just that certain gifts are part of my life, but more: I felt thankful that my life can be part of this bigger gift, this sacred Given-ness. I’m fifty-four years old, and I don’t think I ever felt that kind of great big gratitude until the other night. There was a kind of ecstasy to it, a deep delight and weighty joy that stayed with me as I drifted off to sleep.

From Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words (HarperOne in the US, Hodder in the UK, 15 March 2011)