A few years ago, I came across what I thought was a really great, new Thanksgiving tradition. All you need are a white tablecloth and some fabric markers. As you’re setting your Thanksgiving table, scatter the markers along so that everyone can reach one or two markers. Then, once everyone is seated but before the meal begins, ask everyone to pause and think about one thing that they’re thankful for this year. Using the fabric markers, they write what they’re thankful for on the tablecloth along with their name and the year.
Maybe this idea struck me because words are such a powerful part of who I am and what I do. When you think about it, a giant part of a pastor’s job revolves around weaving together the “right” words – for worship, for prayers, for sermons, for visits … even for newsletter articles. Words have always appealed to me in a special way. They have been my friends and my foes, my expression and my constraint. For me, words truly are a living, breathing thing.
And I know that I am far from alone in this. There are many people who find some sort of journaling to be a very important, very powerful spiritual discipline. In her book on the art of spiritual journaling, Ann Broyles says, “There is something in the physical act of writing that releases creativity and self-understanding. … Many people who journal discover that the more they write, the more their words become connections to God, unselfconscious prayers, reminders of God’s power.”
Words connect us both to one another and to God in a truly unique way. Words can be so intimate, so nuanced, so particular. The words we choose for one situation may be completely inappropriate in another. The words that I find comforting may ring hollow for someone else. Even the way that we say different words and assign meaning to them is constantly changing depending on our context – geographical, cultural, social, etc. If you’re ever looking for a fun way to waste a few minutes, look up some of the phrases and slang that are unique to different parts of American. The phrase “bless your heart” can mean two very different things in the north as opposed to the south, for example. And as we in Minnesota well know, the seemingly-simple word “interesting” can have a whole host of unsaid things attached to it.
In his 2nd letter to the church in Corinth, Paul even likens us to words:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all;
and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone
but on tablets of human hearts.
~ 2 Corinthians 3:2-3
God took the time and the effort to create each and every one of us with a unique purpose and joy and vision in mind. But just like words, we are constantly in flux – changing, shifting, stretching, growing. We are constantly being guided – being written and rewritten, defined and redefined – by the movements and the nudgings and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In every sense of the word, we are God’s story, filling a blank page each and every day with the words of our hearts and our souls and our lives. Sometimes those words bleed over onto the pages of another. Sometimes our stories become intertwined. Sometimes they diverge. Sometimes we feel like the pages of our hearts are so full, they could burst, and sometimes we feel like they’re so empty, we can hear our own echoes. But through it all, we remain God’s favorite story.
Maybe that’s why the Thanksgiving tablecloth-writing tradition resonated so profoundly with me. Throughout the years, you keep adding to this tablecloth, heaping thanks upon thanks and gratefulness upon gratefulness and creating a powerful story of the life of you and your loved ones. I picture this tablecloth after 30 … 40 … even 50 years – words winding around each other, squeezed in beside each other, overlapping each other, even thanks from one year inspiring those for another, creating and recreating a stirring and authentic story of graciousness and gratitude.
 Ann Broyles. Journaling: A Spiritual Journey. (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1999), 14, 17.