Here in the United States, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving Day this coming Thursday. Today, I’m getting an early start. I’m practicing thankfulness, using a little two-part writing exercise that I’d like to share with you. First, I’ll go through the exercise myself; then I’ll say a little bit about how you can try it too.
Part One: Thankfulness Past
It starts with thankfulness. The first thing that comes to mind today is that I’m thankful for a certain place I used to live—a place I still think of as home, though I don’t live there any more. It’s Princeton, Illinois. I went to high school there, and I met my wife there. With a group of friends, I helped to start a church there: the Open Prairie United Church of Christ. I love those people, and I love the vision we shared. I’m thankful for those friends and for that experience.
I’m thankful today for the seminary I attended, the Earlham School of Religion, where I learned things that are still moving me forward. You know, I used to have an academic career; I’ve studied at three colleges and taught at three others; but among all those institutions of higher learning, it’s the Earlham School of Religion that has a special place in my heart. It was a remarkably accepting and generous community. I felt like I could really be myself there, myself with full force. I had some great teachers there, and some good friends, and we all helped each other on the journey.
I’m thankful today for the training communities, the Karatedo Doshinkan dojos, where I’ve been a member. I was blessed to train with some life-changing teachers—Shihan Dr. Dean Lillard and Shihan Dr. June Pilcher, especially—and the communities around them were exciting and empowering. My friends in those communities trained hard, and they made it a key practice to help each other learn.
And I’m thankful today for my birth family: my remarkable parents, and my remarkable brother, and my remarkable sister. When I was a boy, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. I do now. And I’m thankful today for my wife of almost thirty-two years, and our amazing daughter, and our amazing son. I’ve always known how lucky I am to have their shining spirits with me on the journey.
Part Two: Thankfulness Future
Now all this thankfulness is leading me to a feeling—but I don’t know a word for this feeling. It’s sort of like homesickness, but without the nostalgia. It’s a longing for a home, for a feeling of community. All the blessings I’ve just given thanks for, they tend that way. They point that way. So now I have a sort of longing for the community to which they point. It’s a belonging-longing, a longing for a home, and I don’t quite know where it is.
My home is a place where people laugh a lot, I know that.
My home is a community of people who get excited about their projects. They have energy, and they run with it.
People sing there a lot, too. They get together and sing. Just for fun.
I’m pretty sure the food is really good there. Simple, but good: soup, stew, fresh bread. And chocolate, of course.
My home is a place where people are glad to receive what I’m glad to give. My work has a place there. I’m at home there, the way an apple tree is at home in a land of people who love apples.
But most of all, this: my home is a place where people take care of each other. They like working together. They practice helping each other on the journey.
I don’t know: can you be homesick for a home you haven’t lived in yet? Is this heaven-sickness—is it kingdom-of-God-sickness—is it a longing for something beyond this life? Or is it also possible here and now? Is it, perhaps, waiting for me to help create it, to help build it and sustain it?
Maybe what I’m feeling is a future direction: a future thankfulness that I need to help bring to life.
Now, friends, what I just did was a thankfulness exercise, and I invite you to try this exercise for yourself. The exercise has two steps. Step one: take some time to think and write a bit about some things for which you’re particularly thankful right now. Step two: look back over what you’ve written, and ask yourself this: where are those things going? Where are they pointing? Because I think that the things we’re thankful for shouldn’t just stay in the past, as objects of nostalgia; they should point us to the future. In my case, my thankfulness was focused on experiences of friendship and community—and they seem to be pointing me toward a future community that I realize I need to help build.
What are you thankful for, and where does it point you? Post something here and share your thoughts. I look forward to reading about your thankfulness, past and future.