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Seeds of Thanksgiving

By Jonathan Turtle

A decade ago now as a seminarian finding his way back into the Anglicanism of his childhood I, along with my wife, landed in a small parish around the corner from where we lived in Toronto’s Riverdale neighborhood.

It was, at the time, an eclectic parish that gathered in one of the most splendid church buildings in the Diocese of Toronto, tucked away off the beaten path. On any given Sunday you might be sitting beside a distinguished university professor, an elderly widow from around the corner, or a bustling young family. It also enjoyed a robust relationship with Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto and so saw a steady stream of seminarians pass through, some of whom, myself included, have contributed to this blog over the years.

The liturgy too was somewhat eclectic. The Book of Alternative Services provided the foundation, but bits and pieces of the Canadian Book of Common Prayer (1962) were copied and pasted in. Most notably the Prayer of Humble Access was said each week. Also included was a portion of the offertory prayer which we sang together: “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” I cannot tell you the name of the tune, but it sticks with me to this day.

All things come of thee, O Lord. All things. This strikes me as something that is no longer obvious to Christians in the West. We are typically happy to confess that many things come to us from God. Certainly all of the many blessings that we encounter each day: food, friendship, family, work, rest, leisure, a home, good health, and so on.

But all things? What about the things that bring us sorrow and cause us grief? What about all of the loss? Of a job, a relationship, our health — are things such as these included in the “all things” for which we are to give God thanks? That God permits such things to happen we can more readily acknowledge, but that all things come to us by his hand, that is a harder proposal to accept. It is a difficult teaching.

Yet the Christian life is about being open to just this possibility, that everything that comes to us comes by way of God’s loving hand. Nothing at all comes to us apart from him, even those things that strike us more as curses than as blessings. Put another way, every single situation is not only an opportunity but an invitation to know God’s love and give him thanks.

Recently, two things reminded me of this. First, I discovered a little prayer tucked away near the back of the Canadian Prayer Book. It is introduced midway through A Form of Thanksgiving for the Blessing of Harvest with a rubric that states, “This prayer may be used when the harvest has been defective.” In it we pray:

Almighty God and heavenly Father, who hast in wisdom seen fit to withhold from us at this time thine accustomed bounty: We most humbly praise thee for still bestowing upon us far more than we deserve. Make us truly thankful for our many blessings; increase in us more and more a lively faith and love, and a humble submission to thy blessed will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“Who hast in wisdom seen fit to withhold from us at this time thine accustomed bounty.” Do we still have the boldness and faith to pray in this way? Do I? To give thanks to God not only when the harvest is bountiful but when it is defective as well. When the pantry is empty as well as when it is full. To give thanks in the midst of loss as well in the midst of gain. Is this too not an expression of the will of Almighty God, our heavenly Father? Might we not know his blessing in times of fasting as in times of feasting?

Second, I have been reading New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. It is a deeply moving series of reflections on being awakened to the reality and presence of God in the world and in us. The sort of book you can only read slowly, one bite at a time, so as to savor and enjoy. “We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good,” writes Merton. “His inscrutable love seeks our awakening.” To be awakened to the love of God in every situation, this is the contemplative life.

Consider the wind. It carries with it thousands upon thousands of seeds, most of which will perish, but many of which will fall upon the earth, germinate, and become fruitful. So too with the Spirit of God. Every moment, every event, every situation is like a seed carried along by the Spirit to be planted in one’s soul, ready to germinate and produce good fruit.

Too often, however, these seeds fall imperceptibly upon our minds and wills and many are lost because we are not ready to receive them. Says Merton, “In all the situations of life the ‘will of God’ comes to us not merely as an external dictate of impersonal law but above all as an interior invitation of personal love.” Each and every moment carries a spiritual vitality that can awaken us to God’s love if we are open to receiving it as such.

Part of the challenge here may well be what we think about when we think about “God’s will.” If we have in mind a sort of arbitrary force that is external to us and that bears down on us in ways that sometimes seem hostile then we are very likely to chafe at the idea that all things that come to us are God’s will. Indeed, in such a God many may lose faith altogether.

For Merton, however, the will of God is not merely “an external dictate of impersonal law but above all… an interior invitation of personal love.” Thus to speak of the will of God is to speak of the love of God that seeks us out in every moment and seeks to awaken us to this reality. Every situation — feast or famine! — is an opportunity to know the love of God for us in a more profound and real way and thus an invitation to live in a new reality, in the same world but in a new way, with a new orientation and awareness.

What if we were to really live in this way? Then “every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of His life that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest.” We would seek and indeed find the love of God in everything, as Merton goes on to say. In the sun that warms us as well as in the cold rain; in the food that we eat as well as in hunger and fasting; on the days when we are sick as well as on the days when we are hard at work. All things come of thee, O Lord.

If we only consider things “as they are” rather than “as they are in relation to God” — if we consider only the heat or the cold, the food or the hunger, the sickness or the health, as Merton puts it — then we will only be empty and never happy.

If, however, we purpose to know that this situation, this moment here before me is the moment that God has willed for me and that just here in this moment or situation God’s love for me is to be found, then these seeds that make up the moments of our life and that are brought to us by the wind of the Spirit may fall upon our souls and take root.

Then and only then can we grow up in the love, wisdom, and freedom of God. Then and only then can we offer back to God the love that we have received from him, and find ourselves in finding him. Then and only then can those seeds spring up in a harvest of joyful thanksgiving: All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.


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