November 22, 2006

The Warmth of God

“All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.”
2006 1533 page31 cap believe, because I read the newspaper, that Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in places like Orlando and San Gabriel, though I’ll confess that it’s sometimes hard to see why. In those cities and 10,000 others south of where I live, families leave the windows open when they pass the cranberries and stuffing; insects hum against the screens; palms cast gentle shadows on the lingering bougainvillea.
In the world in which I learned how to be thankful, it was warmth as much as plenty for which we offered reverent thanks on the fourth Thursday of November (or six weeks earlier in Canada). By late November anywhere north of say, Missouri, the sky takes on a sullen, frozen grayness hinting ominously of snow. All of mid-October’s flaming passion has been chilled by winds that swept down from Alberta. The landscape quickly quiets, settles down, reaches for a blanket of dry leaves, goes into winter mode.
2006 1533 page31As if to underscore that what we Northerners truly celebrated was heat, the menfolk of my family gathered for many years on the morning of Thanksgiving Day to “put in the wood” at the home of my aunt and uncle. Their large wood furnace consumed cords of wood the way my brothers and I devoured mashed potatoes—voraciously, without a pause to savor the flavors. After several wind-whipped hours taking heavy rounds of oak and maple off the sawbuck rigged to the Farm-all tractor and hurrying them to the cellar, we would huddle over the heat registers in the living room that blasted super-heated air up from the basement. Our faces and fingers red with wet and cold, we knew intuitively that warmth, even more than food, was life, was safety, was what we really gathered to appreciate. Thanksgiving was the day on which we measured the risk of what was coming, counted the hardwood in the basement and the potatoes in the bin, and thanked God that He had provided enough of both to make it through the winter.
Thus I suspect that I would need some seasons to adjust if I were called to live in Tucson or Biloxi, for it is the goodness of God in the presence of the threat that makes His largesse seem especially large and gracious. Mid plenty and petunias, I am tempted to forget what I most need, the God who is an ever-present help in trouble as in winter. Prone to wander (Lord, I feel it!), I am called to gratitude by snow clouds gathered in the west, by desiccated stands of uncut corn, by squirrels burying their finds across my leaf-strewn yard. Each returns me, warned and chastened, to the Father of lights—and warmth—from whom comes every good and perfect gift, and with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
While Christmas is our holy day of giving, and Easter is the symbol of our hope, Thanksgiving is the just expression of our Christian trust. We pause, uncertainly at times, on the margin of forces and cold we cannot control and declare our gratitude to the God who can bring us through the lean times, the heavy rains, or even the deep snow. Because of the goodness of God, there is food—and grace—enough to last a winter or a lifetime.
The waters will not overwhelm us; our feet will not stumble in the dark.
Those who hunger and thirst for His righteousness have always been filled, will always be filled.
He will be to us, even as the days grow short, a pillar of fire by night, illumining the way with light and warmth.
This is the song of our experience.
“Come, ten thousand angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest home!”

Bill Knott is currently an associate editor of the Adventist Review.