November has gotten away from me, and suddenly Thanksgiving is upon us. Wow. The major discovery made during several months of what might be called non-gainful employment is that there are not enough hours in the day, or so it seems. And then how about that weather? I still have a big pot of geraniums blooming enthusiastically beside the front steps, unheard of for late November in Iowa, not conducive to turkey-day thoughts.
But this is the week I’ll bring in those two lawn chairs leaning against a tree in the back yard --- and still in use on sunny, warm days; and empty the birdbath and bring it in since while very pretty it’s not especially durable. Our good fortune can’t last much longer.
Thanksgiving coincides with the season in which three new years begin, so there’s a lot to think about right now, given the gift of time --- something I’m especially thankful for this year.
The first new year, a new year for the church among those of us at the liturgical end of the spectrum, begins Sunday, the first in Advent --- a penitential season moving forward toward the great celebration of Christ’s birth. So we’re changing the paraments from serviceable green to purple this week and replacing burned down candles --- eight on the altar, two on the side altar, one on the scripture stand and a twelfth on the credence stand at the rear of the church where bread and wine rest before being brought forward. And assembling the Advent wreath --- more candles to be lighted against the darkness that humanity to a greater extent and nature to a lesser impose on this old world.
The winter solstice arrives, not coincidentally since the church has never been shy about co-opting observances that predate it, on the 21st of December. The shortest day of the year, but also the day when seasons turn and the days begin to lengthen --- the return of light, a day to dance around a fire to celebrate if you’re so inclined.
And finally on Jan. 1, the turn of the calendar year to 2010, the newest of our celebrations of rebirth since until quite recently in human terms (that process involving a shift from the Julian to Gregorian calendars began in 1582 with a papal bull and careened onward for a couple of centuries until nearly everyone jumped aboard) the new calendar year began several weeks later.
So like I said, I’ve been thinking about exactly what it is I’m especially thankful for this year and the greatest of these has been time.
I was able to attend the ecumenical Thanksgiving service last night at First Christian Church, for example, and hear the Rev. Christopher Pisut, new priest in the Sacred Heart parish, deliver his first sermon to a congregation not composed primarily of Roman Catholics. Had circumstances of faith been slightly different, that boy would have done a Baptist congregation proud, too.
But it’s been years since I’ve had the luxury of doing something like this, involved for longer than I care to remember in interesting work but a numbing work schedule that swallowed evenings and holidays, too.
I’ve been able to follow the seasons at my leasure this year for the first time in years --- in the garden, at Pin Oak Marsh, down the Cinder Path and elsewhere while traveling widely in Lucas and nearby counties. What a gift that’s been.
And then there’s interesting and engaging work. I spend an hour or two a day at the museum sifting through and organizing papers, photos and the occasional stray artifact that incorporate the history of this small place. Another gift, to have the time to to do this and a museum staff appreciatively willing enough to give me access and a fairly free rein.
Profound spiritual exercise would be a gratifying thing to report upon, too, but for better or worse most of my profoundly spiritual experiences occur while walking down a trail or on my knees with a scrub brush, rather than a Bible, in hand. It just works that way for some of us.
So I made a commitment several months ago to spend an hour a day working at the church, clearing, scrubbing, polishing, sweeping. I’ve taken to calling it “forward in faith with a broom.” That does not mean St. Andrew’s has not been maintained, by the way. We’re fortunate enough to be able to employ someone who cleans once a week, someone to mow the grass and someone else to clear away the snow come winter. And when something began to fall apart, it has been repaired or replaced.
But it’s amazing how many small tasks fall through the cracks. The ongoing project has been clearing a very nice room, once the parish office, that had been turned into a storage area as circumstances changed and circuit-riding priests involved in two or more parishes replaced resident clergy.
The situation in that room had gotten so grim than when new carpet was installed in the church and parish hall a couple of years ago, it was impossible to recarpet this room because so much stuff had accumulated in it --- so the carpet remnants were stacked in there, too. And no thought could be given to repainting this room when the parish hall was repainted --- for the same reasons. Half-empty paint cans joined the accumulation.
But while several of us were participating in the ecumenical service last night, Fred was busy repainting the walls and before Christmas we’ll install new carpet, refurnish the room and bring it back into the active life of the church. Another thing to be grateful for. (We’ve also led the many groups --- artists, Girl Scouts, practitioners of Yoga and those recovering from addictions --- who use the church when we’re not there a merry chase while moving their stashes of supplies and equipment from place to place.)
These are a few of the ways I’ve been investing my gift of time. And there are many other things to be thankful for, too --- plenty of food and friends, a warm place to sleep and a promising invitation to Thanksgiving dinner.
Underneath all of this joy and gratitute, however, is the sobering fact that far too many of our neighbors have less to be grateful for and that we all need to work on that. My thinking here has not been as clear-cut as that involved in reclaiming an abandoned room.
Prayer is useful, I truly believe, but isn’t it necessary to remember that we all have the potential to be used to answer prayers; that angels are not critters that float down from heaven with feathered wings and magic wands, but are always among us --- and that we might encounter one or arise one morning unexpectedly incarnating one, too; and that the Christ whose birth we are preparing to celebrate, however we experience Him, is not an abstraction, but very well might be standing out in the cold in need of a meal the next time the doorbell rings?
It’s one thing to have faith and be grateful for the gift. It’s quite another to live it. That has been, is and will remain the big one to work on.