The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

We are preparing for Thanksgiving worship, and trust that you will attend virtually on Thanksgiving day.  

After reading W. S. Merwin’s poem titled “Thanks” (below) I am not surprised that his father was a Presbyterian minister: his words of gratitude read like a sermon, extending thanks from early nightfall to dinner table, from illness to war, from the intimacy of loss to the anonymity of the city, underlining what one person called the “graceful urgency” of gratitude. His 2005 poem imitates our 2020 gratitude. He was reading us like an open book all along. Sorrow intermingles with awe. We offer an ever-more weighty thanks when our hearts are broken, such that they are. 

Near the end he writes, “we are saying thank you faster and faster/with nobody listening,” and here is where I might disagree. 

Yes in the middle of a pandemic, life feels at once “faster and faster” (how do we seem to have less time when so much remains canceled, closed, and postponed?) and still disorientingly slow. Milestones keep passing us by: birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, firsts, and lasts. Our hopes for the future are punctuated by, “if COVID-19 doesn’t get in the way.” We hang in mid-air wondering, with the psalmists, “How long, O Lord?” And all the while, we gird our loins and say “thank you.” 

But no surprise, I disagree with Merwin that “nobody” is listening to our thanks. Sometimes it feels as if God is deus absconditus, absent from the suffering of the world, hidden, and inaccessible. But our perpetual practice of gratitude draws us closer and closer to the God who knows us by name. Thirteenth century German mystic Meister Eckhart says “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” The One in whom we live and move and have our being hears our silent or shouted-from-the-rooftop prayers of gratitude. 

In this season of Thanksgiving, we have an opportunity to strengthen our thank-prayers: not a false strength built on saccharine piety, but a gritty, real, thick hope knit together by the tender mercy of God. The hope is that gratitude might shift and change us. And so we give thanks. 

W.S. Merwin: “Thanks”

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is