how a hard, hard year can still be your most abundant year [or: how a hard year can give you a good thanksgiving]

We’re laughing like these crazy loons out in the middle of a field of corn.

The Farmer’s got hold of that combine seat like he’s on this one-time shot at the whole round moon.

It’s harvest and a time of thanksgiving and the holy cusp of Advent and you won’t pass by this way again and the corn just keeps on coming.

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“How in the world?” I can’t take my eyes off the yield monitor.

Stunned wonder isn’t an understatement.

We had a drought this year. The sky had locked hard about the middle of June.

The Farmer had said: “I’ve never seen any crop look so desperate on this farm. If God doesn’t give rain by the weekend, there’s not going to be any corn this year.”

I’d felt it in his words, the the surrender of one worn farmer and the heat of the sun and a withering crop.

Life is a furnace and the faithful live by the Shadrach-prayer of only 4 words:  “Even if He doesn’t.” This world doesn’t have anything that can burn down the faith of a heart on fire for God.    

And come November, the digital screen of the combine, it’s calculating the number of bushels per acre this field of corn is yielding, and it’s flashing out these little black numbers that are huge, that make no sense, that are a bit stratospheric, and is grace the most amazing of all because it defies what makes sense? 

“Get OUT of here!” I’m slack-jawed over the high monitor spikes and the Farmer looks like he is right out of here and straight over the moon, and I slap at his chest like the flapping loon that I am and he grins giddy.

“I know, I know!” And all over again, he’s that laughing teenage boy that flushed me silly.

“Who would have ever have thought?” I can’t stop shaking my head.

“You know…” He leans over the combine steering wheel, glances past me, past me to the wagon filling with corn.

“I don’t know what to think — so maybe I just thank?”

And I look at this man just working hard and quiet and the harvest of a life well-lived: There’s no right thinking apart from really thanking.  

The corn’s running like flashes of glory into the wagon. What if we celebrated Thanksgiving the most because it’s the least commercialized? 

What if the grace of God was only rightly answered by the gratitude of men

What had Karl Barth said?

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.

Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo.

Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightening.”  ~Barth

The corn’s streaming in and I can still see the lightening that had come right after Sunday preaching way back in July.

I remember the gusts of wind and the thickening black to the west. I remember the thunder that rumbled hope and how we stood on the front lawn and begged that rain to come.

And I remember how it went north. Twice. And how the Farmer had stood there, watching the rain come down only two miles away and I’d whispered wild to him, “What if we get nothing? What if we lose the harvest?”

And he’d said it steady and certain, the rain coming down right there 2 fields over and so far away: “When you know your Father’s loving — what can you fear losing?

The rain had kept falling just to the north and he’d stood in this startling surrender.

And then, just before supper — the sky had darkened hope and and the black had opened up to give us our prayers, the way that the black so often does. We had all danced on the lawn in that rain.

I turn to him now in the combine: “It was that storm.”

Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightening.

“The storm gave us this yield. The storm was grace.”

There’s no harvest without a storm.

Gratitude follows grace — as thunder follows lightening. And the storm is grace because whatever drives us into God, is a grace from God.

It’s all grace. 

Hadn’t Barth said that:

“…the only proper thing, but the thing which is unconditionally and inescapably demanded, is that [we] should be thankful. How can anything more or different be asked of man?… 

[O]nly gratitude can correspond to grace, and this correspondence cannot fail.

Its failure, ingratitude, is sin, transgression.

Radically and basically all sin is simply ingratitudeman’s refusal of the one but necessary thing which is proper to and is required of him…

[G]ratitude is the complement which man must necessarily fulfill.

~Karl Barth in The Doctrine of Reconciliation (Church Dogmatics, Vol. 4, Part 1 Pp. 41-42).

God gives grace and ours is to give thanks and in the midst of full days, this is God’s unconditional demand: That we live thankful.

And the Farmer grabs my hand, pulls me to the seat behind the steering wheel:

“Here — You feel the harvest.”

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And I keep my eyes on the rows and hands loose on the steering wheel, letting go, and I laugh embarrassed and nervous and the Farmer winks.

“You’re doing great — it’s all great. He is.

And I can feel it — there’s corn. And there’s us all here.

And there’s sky and food and family and this country and a God in heaven and a love we don’t deserve and there’s grace that comes as storms and the only answer to God’s unending grace — is man’s unending gratitude. When you live in a covenant of grace, you can’t help but live out a covenant of gratitude

And the Farmer leans into me and whispers it Thank you, Lord

and I murmur it too.

The way Grace and Gratitude echo to each other through everything….

 

 

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