As the God's Friends Editorial Board worked on this issue, we named and renamed it. Some readers may remember
our announcing it as the issue on giving and receiving generosity. After that, we started referring to it among
ourselves as simply the abundance issue. Finally, I started telling everybody this was the gratitude issue.
Looking through our stories, I don't wonder at our confusion. A terrifying childhood nightmare, an adolescent
escapade with a loose pitchfork, the early death of a much loved parent, chemotherapy: such topics don't immediately
elicit overflowing gratitude. And while the story of a gloriously ripe peach crop speaks of abundance, it seems,
well, almost an embarrassment of riches.
In fact, the gift of our lives is simply stupefying in its richness. There is no single word or explanation
to explain it, nothing except the work St. Gregory described as "unending progress towards discovering God
at work among humanity." That is the work we are all engaged in, good times and bad. As Brother David Steindl-Rast
says in his book Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer, "In the end, gratefulness will be our full aliveness to
a gratuitously given world."
Here in Northern California, the oak trees are dying. Black oak, coast live oak, and tan oak by the thousands,
attacked by a mysterious fungus. Dark ooze appears on the bark, the tree weakens, bark beetles move in, and it's
all over in three weeks.
I remember Sunday walks with our children on Mt. Tamalpais and in the Marin Municipal Watershed, the oaks leading
us on, their hoary, gray, twisted boughs as beautiful to us as the limbs of much loved grandmothers. We called
one enormous tree the Indian Tree because we imagined the Miwok people, inhabitants of Marin until a few hundred
years ago, standing on its high limbs looking over the woods to their campfires miles away.
One January there was a rare snow, three or four inches on every leaf and limb and blade of grass on that mountain.
When we walked to the Indian Tree the next Sunday, we found it completely collapsed. Unable to bear the weight
of the snow, the ring of huge trunks crashed outward in a great circle like the spokes of a wheel. My children,
my husband, and I stood in stunned silence over that magnificent body lying wrecked and still leafy green. It was
as though we had stumbled on a great fallen warrior whose last battle no one had seen.
Then one of the children stepped forward and began to climb cautiously onto a near bough. In short order, we
were all up, moving in different directions out from the center. I buried my nose in the moist green moss of a
central trunk hidden from sunlight for years, I saw my husband testing his weight on what must have been the top-most
branch, seventy feet from the base of the tree. The branch held, and he bounced lightly, like a dancer. The children
whooped and jumped and wiggled all over everywhere.
We spent the rest of the day there at the tree, our dear and revered friend. We picnicked on it, leaning our
bodies into its embrace, giving thanks for the gift of its life.