May 18, 2024
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Here’s a modernized hymn for Thanksgiving (with apologies to Johnson Oatman, Jr., whose over-a-century-old lyrics I’ve messed with):

Count your many blessings;

Name them one by one!

Giving thanks for all good things,

To whom it may concern.

As most of you know, the first two lines are the originals; mine are the last two. I like Mr. Oatman’s original words much better. (He wrote lyrics for over 5,000 gospel songs!)

But, as Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been thinking also of something author Cornelius Plantinga observed years ago as he wrote, “It must be odd to be thankful to no one in particular.” So, having pondered that idea a little, I found myself wondering what sort of song might be appropriate for a “to whom it may concern” approach to Thanksgiving in particular and gratitude in general.

I’m sure “counting” our “many blessings,” as Mr. Oatman counsels in the classic gospel song (music by Mr. E. O. Excell, who wrote over 2,000 songs) is great spiritual medicine for us all. And, for us all, even, amazingly, in some very, very difficult times and hard circumstances, the list will be long.

My counsel would be to make a very real list. Write down a bunch of blessings, and then put it aside, but nearby, so you can add more as they come to mind.

And I’d suggest launching out with no particular order or rank in mind. It’s fine to list “life itself” right beside “my fuzzy slippers.” “My grandkids” are in no way demeaned by listing them alongside “a warm fire in the hearth.” Don’t make this hard; just let the items pile up.

At some point, a page or a few into the exercise, spend a little time focusing on a specific item or a few, large or small, and practice “peeling back the onion” a bit.

The “fire in the hearth” example is more than theoretical. I’m writing this in front of my first fire of the season. The onion-peeling thing means thinking about the layers of blessing inherent in any specific blessing. On paper, depending on how you run with this, some layers of blessing might be “diagrammed” onion-like in concentric circles on the page.

Some blessings might lend themselves more to a sort of family tree-like diagram. “Nice fire” up at the top. Then branching out, fireplace, wood, trees, seasons, etc. I’m soon reminded that, though I built the fireplace and bought the wood, I had financial blessings and a job that made such possible. It won’t take long for me to be reminded that I did not make the trees or fashion the seasons. We get past “me” in the diagram of blessing very quickly. Good lesson, that.

Some folks, of course, peel back the onion and see nothing at the center. Or their “blessing diagram” may indeed lead to some fine folks and good things, but (how to say this?) fairly quickly “thins” out.

But I don’t believe “nothing” is at the center. A seed was there. Life was there. And, I believe, the Author of life gave me my life as well, and all of “my” blessings come, at heart, from His hand. If I keep peeling back the layers, “diagramming” my blessings, it doesn’t take me long to get to my Father at the center of it all.

By the way, the more science tells me about creation, the more I thank the Creator in amazement and awe.

For life itself and for fuzzy, warm slippers, I give thanks to Him.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Curtis K. Shelburne, Columnist


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