Creation and Gratitude
By Heather L. Melton, staff officer for the United Thank Offering
This morning I woke up to find a rare late spring storm brewing overhead. It has continued all day – dark sky, swiftly blowing winds and a sprinkle of rain every once in a while. I have come to love days like this. When you live in the “desert and basin” ecosystem, you come to expect bright blue skies and crisp air, so these grey days are like a small gift or interruption to the routine.
I love these days because they are often a reminder to pay attention. I don’t know about all of you, but I find that I sometimes get so busy, I miss all sorts of opportunities to notice the good things happening all around me in creation. I love nature — in fact, I have a degree in environmental sciences because I enjoy the outdoors so much — but I find that I often, especially on a weekday, get so busy that I don’t always take the time to stop and appreciate what is happening right outside of the window that my desk faces. I’m good about the big things — for example, I will spend weeks looking for the first signs of spring each morning or rush out to experience the first snowfall — but once they arrive, I often go back to being busy.
Creation is the first gift God gave us, and maybe, because it was the first, it is often something we forget to regularly give thanks for. I’m trying to be better about noticing the good things happening in creation this summer, mostly because I want my children to be good at noticing the changes unfolding all around us.
Earlier this year, the girls each asked for a fruit tree, a peach and a pink lady apple. Both are now growing happily in our front yard; I’d like to think due to the regular visits from the girls. Each day they go out and examine their trees for any change and then shout joyfully the updates to the other one. We give thanks for each little carrot shoot coming up in the garden, rejoiced over the scapes on the garlic, noticed how quickly the potatoes sprouted and made joyful plans when the first pumpkin leaves formed. We’re spending a lot of time noticing creation, because it also has become a respite for us during the pandemic. Creation, which has long been a gift to us, is one we have come to really depend on for joy over the last year in ways we really hadn’t before.
UTO reminds us that the first step of practicing gratitude is to simply notice the good things happening, to be present and awake in the world we live in, to see the gifts of love God is placing all around us. The next step is to give thanks for those gifts, and one of the best ways we can give thanks for God in creation is to do our best to care for the earth. This can feel like a difficult task, especially living with small, messy people, but it can also be a creative task. The tin that holds your tea bags can become storage for buttons, for example.
When we begin to see things that we would have discarded instead recycled in new ways, we get to join in the process of creation and creativity. I think God rejoices each time we join in the work of creation, either through tending a garden (see the Good News Gardens for awesome resources), composting, reusing or repurposing. Each time we do these things, we help make the earth a little better for everyone. I sometimes like to think that if creation is the first gift of love from God, my organic garden (and two composters) are my thank-you note back.
This summer I want to invite you to be more present to the gift of creation. I’ve decided this summer to track how many days I spend at least an hour outside and then make a thank offering for each one of those days at the end of summer. It can be as simple as the hour I spend outside grilling and eating dinner to as elaborate as an hour spent hiking in a national park. What if we were more intentional this summer about enjoying creation and giving thanks for it? How might it change our relationship with God and our neighbors? How might we be changed if we deepen our relationship with the love of God as experienced in nature? I hope you’ll consider joining me in this project over the next few months and that you’ll share with me what you learned or experienced.