Keeping the Feast

I started this post on Saturday and only finished it today. But here’s a glimpse into our Thanksgiving–easily the most meaningful of my life. I do hope that each of you had a special and restful holiday…

Oh, how I love this time of year; this happy hobnobbing of autumn and Advent, the lingering glow of a Thanksgiving feast interlaced with the early bright gleams of Christmas traditions. We went to our first Christmas party last night, and tonight we’ll gather with friends for an evening of music and fellowship and autumnal fare. Tomorrow we’ll probably bring home our Fraser fir from the lot down the road before heading out for a Thanksgiving celebration with Philip’s family. There’s a festive little vase of holly berries on the table before me as I write, set against the lingering gold of a cherry tree outside the window, and I think I might just put up my ‘birds’ Christmas tree’ in the bedroom before the weekend is out.

In short, it’s a lovely jumble of seasons—both literal and metaphorical—and the very transience of it all makes it all the more lovely.

We hosted Thanksgiving here on Thursday, a thing neither of us would have thought possible a year ago. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks—months—as a bold, joyous articulation of the restoration that’s been wrought in our lives and in our home over the past year and-a-half, and the endless ‘to-do’ list I’d been curating reflected the overflowing anticipation of my heart. The thought of filling these rooms once more with the scents, sounds, and glad fellowship of a feast was as clear and poignant a picture of redemption as I’ve ever known, and I couldn’t wait to experience the reality.

The reality, however, is that early in the week I was seized with an almost incapacitating sadness. I say ‘almost’, because if it had not been a few days before Thanksgiving, I very likely would have succumbed to its heart-numbing invitation to pull up a chair at the cold table of despair and just sit there in an un-creative void. In the face of all that God has done and all that we have to thank Him for, all I could think about was all that’s been lost.

It was so oppressive that I texted a kindred spirit to pray for me. “I feel like I’m scared of everything,” I told her.

Everything I loved seemed suddenly a door flung wide to pain and more loss.

“I just can’t find my joy,” I wrote. “And I think that scares me most of all.”

I missed my Daddy. I missed the auld lang syne of God’s seemingly unbroken favor. I missed the animals we’ve lost over the years and I missed my siblings who weren’t able to come home for Thanksgiving. I missed our pre-fire innocence and the dozen things I instinctively reached for in my new kitchen only to realize they hadn’t been replaced yet–my favorite colander, my hand-mixer, my electric knife, my cookie cutters.

To jumble bereavement with such temporal and utterly replaceable items is just as short-sighted as it sounds. And yet, the sting of these tiny things only amplified the stab of the great ones. In a world where anything might happen, ‘anything’ loomed less benevolent than capricious, and joy felt about as safe as the cracked ice upon which Amy March so impetuously pursued her sister Jo, to such life-threatening consequences.

The Victorians were great proponents of the “rest cure” for exhaustion of the mind and body, and while I certainly advocate a 21st century version of healthful self-care, I’ve also learned to respect the benefits of what I like to call a “work cure”–an all-encompassing project to lift me out of an endless circle of doubt and dark thoughts. While a to-do list can often be a snare, sometimes it’s a lifeline–and that was absolutely the case for me this week. As I threw my energies into ironing linens, making casseroles, preparing the guest room and setting the table, my mind was loosed to reflect upon the memory of God’s faithfulness. To remember that thankfulness is not a force (or even a feeling) generated by good Christian grit, but a simple response to who God is, in spite of all seemings and appearances. In spite of all that has happened–and all that has not happened.

Be joyful, says Wendell Berry, though you have considered all the facts.

I turned on a playlist to accompany my work–courage-giving songs by Andrew Peterson, Matthew Clark, Rich Mullins, The Innocence Mission. And as I sang along–instinctively at first, but gradually, imperceptibly, with gathering intention–something broke open inside of me. A familiar warmth rose, glad and golden, searing and sweet, burning at the back of my throat, stinging my eyes with tears.

How easily I forget, when facts accumulate on the sad side of life and God seems preoccupied, that praise is always a golden key. Praise loosens the lock upon the memory of God’s faithfulness and ushers us into the presence of God’s character. If thankfulness is acknowledging what God has done, praise is affirming Who God is–and even our feeblest efforts connect us to the glorious, electrifying Secret that’s singing and thrumming and kindling in every corner of creation–

That the Kingdom of God is already among us, and that this broken world is thronged with the glory of it. That no good thing will be lost forever. That no matter how we tally the facts of our lives, the equation will always ultimately equal Love.

I remembered afresh that every dish prepared, every place set, every starched and ironed pillowcase, has the potential to bear something eternal to time-bound souls–to affirm their worth, to us and to God, and to whisper of a belonging that has no boundaries of race or gender or tribe. When we welcome people to our table, we offer them not only a meal, but a taste of a Feast that is coming. The first fruits of a new creation.

Earlier this fall, I read a slim-but-dense book called Only the Lover Sings by the German philosopher and theologian Josef Pieper. In it, he makes a lot of challenging points about the role of art and artists in a culture that has largely forgotten how to see, much less contemplate, the truest things in life. But one of his most poignant assertions (to me, at least) was made almost in passing–namely, that the truest things in life are articulated in the context of feasting: in our celebrations, our holidays, our holy days

We cannot truly feast, he says, without an unflinching acceptance of life as it is–broken, messy, beautiful and bittersweet. But a feast is no feast that does not also affirm, tacitly or otherwise, life as it will be.      

It takes so much courage to hold reality-as-it-is and reality-as-it-will-be in the same heart, doesn’t it? Which is why we so desperately need the artists to keep reminding us of what’s true, to give form to the inarticulable, to tell us we’re not alone. But I believe that anyone who takes up cookbook or mop or iron or silver polish is an artist in the most essential sense. And that of all the arts, perhaps, these are the ones this homesick old world is most hungry for.

Last winter, our dear friend Matthew Clark sent us a song he had written about our home and about the journey we were taking together in its restoration. In it he enfleshed a hope that made us brave in our darkest days, and which made our joy complete in the longed-for fulfillment of this year’s Thanksgiving feast. It was hard for me to believe a year ago that these old rooms really would be filled again, and even the reality of it last Thursday felt like a dream. But it’s a dream that God has planted deep inside every one of us–the best of all the dreams the world has ever dreamed. And it’s already coming true.

Sitting around the table with friends and loved ones; toasting the Kingdom with champagne and elderflower punch; singing hymns in the parlor and sipping coffee by the fire–it was all so good. And it was all yet another beautiful assertion that we’ll always be feasting in faith.

Until, of course, that glorious Day when we aren’t:

And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. ~Revelation 19:9

And as a rather giddy little acknowledgement of this most blessed of seasons about to bloom before us, here’s a clip that Philip took of my friends and me at our singing practice a couple of weeks ago. I may very well take this down in a day or so, but I couldn’t help sharing with all of you my home’s happiness to be filled with song once more. This is an early American shape note carol called “The Shepherd’s Star”:


  1. Oh, this is so beautiful. I have tears in my eyes as I think of the blessing your home and feast must have been to you all. I haven’t heard of that book by Pieper but I love his ideas and will seek it out.

  2. “The Shepherd’s Star” gave me a lift of joy. The shape note harmonies are so pure and vital.
    I’ve never been sure why that mixture of nostalgia, longing, and foreboding can overtake me. What has been; what can no longer be; what is; what may yet be–both to dread and to eagerly anticipate.
    I’m glad that in the end the holiday gathering in your beautifully restored home was an occasion of celebration. [And yes–the animals we have lost have a different, though valuable place in the catalog of the missing and deeply missed!]

    1. Sharon, thank you–I’m glad you enjoyed the song.
      And I’ve been meaning to tell you–I have SO enjoyed the apron you gave me. It’s perfect. I wore it for days straight in all my holiday prepartions! 🙂

  3. So beautiful. The writing, the music, everything. The shape note song reminds me of old Shaker songs, and what lovely voices sent it forth! Your friend’s fire ballad was amazing in a wonderful Andrew Peterson sort of way. Thank you for sharing it all, even your pre-Thanksgiving downturn and rebound. It is, as you say, already coming true.

  4. “Praise loosens the lock upon the memory of God’s faithfulness and ushers us into the presence of God’s character. If thankfulness is acknowledging what God has done, praise is affirming Who God is–and even our feeblest efforts connect us to the glorious, electrifying Secret that’s singing and thrumming and kindling in every corner of creation.”

    Oh how true this is. In my deepest depths I find a wellspring of joy breaks open as I praise. Memories of my father, who passed into the arms of Jesus this year, whisper to me. He’d stub his toe and grunt, “Praise the Lord,”as he moved on with work. His Word calls us to praise in the good times and bad. Even when my circumstances seem to indicate absolute failure, I can praise Him for He is worthy–always. I lean upon Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” and I am released to praise.

  5. I always find Beauty here, dear Lanier. So many prayers have been sent up to the Father for you and seeing your lovely home being used for hospitality again makes me smile and know that prayer is answered. You are a gift to all of us.

    I have those same moments, especially during the Holidays, of overwhelming grief and fear. When the enemy of our souls whispers a question of “What is next, who is next?”. But I have now lived long enough to know I can walk securely into the future because He has already brought me through hard times. Innocence has been replaced by a faith forged in fire. Literally for you!

  6. Lanier, What lovely music from Matthew Clark. Your story is beautiful, uplifting and real. Living in California, this is my prayer for those who have lost “their” homes in the fires….that they might see God, have hope and feast at HIS table.

  7. that is so lovely and the video Philip took is really nice! shows your beautiful home and such beautiful singing and such a beautiful song! I would keep it up for us but as you see best! I am so glad for the restoration of so much. The things you are still missing, that is hard. And to miss your Father, that is a deep thing. I too had a few days before Thanksgiving that were super rough. I think that the art and practice of Thanksgiving (giving thanks) plus the effort to do honour to this art by the Thanksgiving Feast is a really important act to bless others and we all know that such important acts have temptations and struggles… but with God we can keep going and bless others! God bless you and your Husband and your beautiful home!

  8. I’ve been reading your blog on and off for years, and enjoying your thoughts, your spirit, and your elegant writing. But this post deeply resonates with me. That wedding feast, and the celebration feasting we do here on this fallen Earth, whether in small or large ways — this is a theme that my husband and I think of all the time. Thank you for these words, and for the wonderful music, and esp. for the video stroll around your rooms of your redeemed home. We are branches in flame, but not consumed. We will see the face of God and will not die. It is all miraculous.

  9. “We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
    What a time they have, these two
    housed as they are in the same body.”

    And so it was, on your first Thanksgiving ‘back home’.

    In the aftermath of the great, unthinkable occurrences that rob us of an earlier innocence, I think we find, not that faith is somehow mysteriously strengthened, so much as that in its fragility, wavering as it does, on the edge of fear, it is more precious – the more worth fighting for…
    And so, you turned to praise!

    I do hope you leave the delightful little video up?.

  10. Holidays are indeed such a jumble of emotions past and present. Including those little things that reduce us to tears over seemingly nothing. I get it. 100 percent. And yes, the key is praise! I have been thinking on this long and hard for months now. Every time we worship our cares and worries find their proper places, in light of who God is, and our focus quickly returns to Him, not our pain and fear. Keep writing, it’s beautiful. And thought provoking. I’m taken away somewhere beautiful and wonderful every time I click on your posts. And the singing is beautiful.

  11. Thank you for the Pieper reference. I was able to download one of his books, am searching for a good copy of another, and just remembered that neither of them are the one that you read…though the themes sound similar. Thank you for the inspiration. Advent blessings…

  12. Your christmas posts are my all-time favourites. How wonderful to see you shared about this truly special first christmas in your new old home. I also went back and read your Camp Marah – articles on goldenhours. I felt uplifted and inspired, as always. So glad you are writing again!
    Will Saint Nicholas put something into your shoes tonight?! I hope so – here he does!

  13. It’s New Year’s Eve – the end of a challenging year. Today was my first chemo treatment for breast cancer and I was scared for a short time as I thought about those toxins pouring through my body intent on their mission of death to offer me a finger-crossed promise of recovery and freedom from fear. The invincibility is gone, the super hero mask has been stripped from my eyes to remind me that God is ever present and always in power in the beauty and awesomeness of our bodies. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made. In the midst of this surreal last few months, I have wept more often at the beauty of friends and relations who surround me with words and prayers of encouragement and love, flowers and hand knit caps, chocolate and tea and offers of meals, and their own tender stories of fear and healing.

    I periodically meander over to your site in search of beauty and have, once again, been blessed by your words of faith, of art, of beauty. God bless you in this new year!

    1. Dear Candy, I am sorry it took me this long to respond to you comment, but I want you to know how very much it meant to me, and how much you’ve been on my heart ever since. Praying for you, my sister. And YES to the ways Jesus shows up in the beauty of our friends. Courage, dear heart, and God bless you. xx

  14. Thank you linear for this great reminder of why we feast I especially liked the quote from Joseph PIEP ER as I am planning our Epiphany feast this year

  15. Lanier, we lost an immediate family member this month, and I find myself back here, reading of your strength in joy during and after grief, of believing in the light though in the darkness. So special…Matthew Clark’s song for you…favorite line: “we are branches bearing flame but not consumed”…I hadn’t thought before of that being US. Second favorite line: “A Holy Ghost breathes here, after all.” This song must have been so comforting to you. A pre-fire innocence…must we really be first buds, then perfect blooms, then later have only tattered petals lifted wearily to the sun? Looking only forward to petals dropping off one-by-one, until our dried, brown demise and then eternal rebirth? Must we dry up into seedheads, scatter our seeds, break and be gone? Surely we don’t have to follow that pattern, though it sometimes seems so…the sun beats so strongly, that sun that is fire. But I can see that you have been scattering seeds for years–so much for the traditional botanical lifecycle!–so perhaps we can keep fresh pink petals until the end…everything in supernatural, not the natural order. I came here, really, to find and listen to some comforting music that you have shared…parlour-music…perfect! Where are you? What are you doing? Are you finding any Anne-springtime-moments this Spring 2019? “I named that cherry-tree outside my bedroom window this morning. I called it Snow Queen because it was so white. Of course, it won’t always be in blossom, but one can imagine that it is, can’t one?

    1. Josie, I am so very sorry to hear how grief has touched you of late. Please know that you have my prayers and condolences. I’m thankful to know that Matthew’s song blessed you–yes, such strong comfort here. I, too, was surprised in the very best way at the image of us as branches bearing the flame of the Holy Spirit, burning but not consumed.

      We are well, happily settling a bit more every day into the old-life-made-new, and looking forward to a summer of studies, friends & family, and, yes, plenty of time in my beloved garden. 🙂

      I’m planning to post soon on what we’ve been up to, but, in a nutshell, my days have been full of books, baby goats, ducklings (!!), seed starts, and writing. 🙂

      1. Lanier, thank you very much for your sympathy and prayers–we are carried by them and know it–and for taking time to write of your life…it is good to hear. Baby goats and ducklings…June is still the time for young life! Ours is of the woods…a quarter-sized bunny seaside yesterday, and back home today, a tiny fox kit running so cutely across a grassy lawn! Kind regards…

  16. What is it about reading Lanier’s writing that motivates me to go out and love my world well? Something universal, something of truth, seems like… Jesus.
    Denise A.

  17. Dear Lanier,

    I imagine you have had a busy year, but I wanted to let you know that I have loved your posts, and find your writing an infinitely refreshing thing in this busy world. I hope that this Advent is a time of peace for you and unbidden joy, and blessing.

  18. Watching the snow outside my window, preparing for Thanksgiving, anticipating next month’s festivities- all of it mingled with the sadness of watching my dad fight cancer…this has been life as of late. This morning I was aching for comfort and thought of you. And here I find this Thanksgiving blog gift- sweet balm.

    Thank you, dear friend, for being you. <3


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