From desert to garden: A Thanksgiving meditation

Photo by Cameron Lee
Photo by Cameron Lee

Listen to me, you who look for righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry where you were dug.
Look to Abraham your ancestor,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
They were alone when I called them,
but I blessed them

and made them many.
The LORD will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her ruins.
He will make her desert like Eden
and her wilderness like the LORD’s garden.
Happiness and joy will be found in her—
thanks and the sound of singing.
— Isa 51:1-3 (CEB)

I love gardens.  I can’t honestly say that I love gardening — but I love gardens.

There’s something calming and restorative about walking quietly along a garden path, surrounded by the beauty of nature: brilliant flowers in all their diversity; lush greenery; the soothing sounds of a cascading stream.  I wonder if we carry deep within us a memory of Eden, a longing for unspoiled paradise.

Prophets like Isaiah were often tasked by God to deliver withering words of condemnation to a fickle and faithless people.  But they also carried words of comfort and care to a people suffering the pain of exile, words like those above.

Listen, the Lord says through his prophet.  Are you seeking me, seeking my ways?  Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah.  You’re a chip off the old block — at least in the sense that I intend to bless you as I did them.  Abraham and Sarah were childless, but I gave them the desire of their hearts, and more: not just a son, but a nation. 

Maybe you’re overwhelmed by thoughts of despair and desolation, haunted by visions of your beloved Jerusalem lying in ruins.  But I will bring comfort once again.  All you see now is wilderness; but in time, I will transform your desert into Eden.  In that day, there will be happiness, jubilant singing, and abundant thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving holiday can be a challenge.  What if we’re not thankful?  What if life seems more like being lost in the wilderness than being at home in paradise?  Do we just put on a smile and fake our way through the celebration with manufactured sentiment?

No.  Every church and every believing family should provide safe spaces to lament and mourn, even in the midst of thanksgiving.  We need brothers and sisters who can help us give voice to our lostness.  But that’s not the end of the story.  We also need those same brothers and sisters to help us cling to the vision of a garden that springs like a new creation from out of the wasteland.

The challenge of faithfulness is to take what comfort we may from the promise without pressing God into our timetable.  Today may not be the day in which we get to see the garden in all its splendor, and perhaps not anytime soon.  But with what faith we have, we thank the God of Abraham and Sarah for being a God whose desire is to bless beyond measure.

Sometimes, others will have to pray that prayer in our stead.  Sometimes, with empathy, patience, and gentleness, others will have to help us see what we’ve missed with our downcast eyes: a bud ready to blossom, a tender green shoot; new life, renewed hope.

And maybe, just maybe, our halting and hesitant words of thanks will themselves become like seeds dropped in what seems like dry and barren soil.  Who knows what they could grow into, when watered with tears and tended by a gracious Gardener.

May your Thanksgiving Day be blessed.