Thomas Merton wrote, "There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues." There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
Dillard is talking about playing it safe. Instead of ecstasy, we pray for a nap. Instead of embracing God's blessings, we shy away from them, preferring to feel slighted and angry. That's what humans do. We are never happy with the chicken on the table. We want prime rib and scallops. If we don't get what we want, we sulk and claim that God is persecuting us.
For many years now, I have had a long list of prayer intentions. Some of them are fairly selfless: health for sick friends, peace for warring nations, food for homeless shelters. A lot of them, however, are a little more self-centered: a new house, a new job, a new income. I pray for some literary agent to discover this blog and offer to represent me and then some publisher to offer me a two-million-dollar book advance followed up by a movie deal. You know, small stuff.
I have felt a little slighted sometimes. Felt like God simply doesn't really give a crap about my life. For instance, for the last three or four years, I have entered a huge poetry contest, with a ten-thousand-dollar prize. One poem is selected every year. One lucky poet is crowned. Thousands of people enter this competition annually. My chances of winning, while better than picking the six lottery numbers correctly, are thin. Really thin. Less than a hair's width. I know this.
Yet, every year that I haven't won, I get pissed and depressed and sulky. I get the e-mail that names the winner, and I want to call down fire and rain and leprosy on his or her house. It's not a pretty side of me. It only lasts for a short while. Maybe a day. But it's an example of me raising tomatoes instead of Cain, as Dillard says.
We are in the month of Thanksgiving in the United States. At the end of the month, most of us are going to sit down with family and friends for a huge turkey feast with mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and pecan pies. It's supposed to be a time when we give thanks to God for His bounty of grace. It's a wonderful holiday.
In honor of Thanksgiving, I will celebrate a blessing in my life every day, from now until November 24.
Tonight's blessing: Saint Marty's brother is visiting from Pennsylvania.