This is the nut of it, yes? For those of us in the developed world living beyond all previously imagined luxury and comfort (even if we are far below the vaunted “1%”), we pause perhaps out of daily practice and most assuredly on this day that we celebrate in common tomorrow, trying to make room for the “crowded kindnesses of God.” I came across that line yesterday, noodling around for a quote for this blog’s Facebook page pre-Thanksgiving. Its unique expression of abundant blessings struck me as worthy of further reflection.
The quote is from Baptist minister Alexander Maclaren (1825-1905), reputed to be a powerful preacher of his time and denominational leader in his native United Kingdom. The full entry reads:
“Do not let the empty cup be your first teacher of the blessings you had when it was full. Do not let a hard place here and there in the bed destroy your rest. Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life.”
In my estimation, these words encompass nearly a full expression of the contours and imperatives of gratitude.
Most every life suffers through empty cups, usually in more frequency than anyone wants or thinks they need. If we’re lucky, they are both preceded and succeeded by periods of our cup overflowing, made all the richer for it surviving emptiness unbroken and then having it refilled—again and again. And despite what up-from-your-bootstraps apologists tend to emphasize, relatively few people in the first world can claim themselves fully worthy of the abundant blessings bestowed upon them by the accidents of birth.
So you have suffered a “hard place here and there.” Rest into it, says the good minister. Remember all you have been bequeathed. And know that all too obviously, It could be worse! (It could always be worse…)
Absent great physical suffering, depression or other mental disorders, we should not long forget the beautifully phrased ‘crowded kindnesses’ that have been falling and flowing over themselves to bless us with gifts that should always be regarded as grace: purely offered and humbly received.
And in the light of that knowledge, don’t wait and hope for your fortunes to turn, but instead create the very conditions for that turning by heeding, not a suggestion, but a “duty” to personally cultivate the buoyancy and joy that is owed to God, fate, the universe, choose your metaphor for the gifts of life you have enjoyed.
In other words, those of us blessed with abundance of material life, friends, love and enrichment have little reason to stew long over the occasional drained cup that upends our (unreachable and unsustainable) ideals of steady state happiness.
Absent great physical suffering, depression or other mental disorders, we should not long forget the beautifully phrased “crowded kindnesses” that have been falling and flowing over themselves to bless us with gifts that should always be regarded as grace: purely offered and humbly received.
Most of us will gather tomorrow in one warm environment or other, where perhaps too-dry turkey and a predictably irritating relative with oddball views will be the extent of our misery. Oh, woe, woe unto us!
The day after that, we might be informed we have a terminal disease. Could we, should we, react then, after, of course, an appropriate period of shock and sadness, by “cultivating a buoyant, joyous sense” of the “crowded kindnesses” we have enjoyed?
I hope we could. That would be my plan, in any case. In that, I would join the poet Susan Deborah King, whose poem, “As Death Approaches,” I featured in the very first month of this blog’s existence in 2012. Click on the link to read the entire poem, a snippet of which I offer below from the poem’s beginning as more than a worthy way to end this post before wishing you all a most Happy Thanks-Giving.
I can’t believe I’m laughing!
I’d have sworn I’d be
shaking or sniveling.
And I sure didn’t expect
I’ve never been in a limousine.
I’ve had better than fame.
Who needs the pressure?
As for fortune, I’m filthy.
That’s why I’m laughing.
I’ve had so much love:
the giving, the getting.
And it’s too late.
No one can take it away!
And I’ve had the pain
to help me appreciate it.
Thank God for the pain!
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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunset and sculpture photos—the latter from Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, burned in the 2017 fires but the metal work surviving—by Andrew Hidas https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/