“So Joe, what are you most thankful for?”
The microphone jutted my way. Five-hundred congregants awaited a profound answer.
Priming the pump for his Thanksgiving sermon, my pastor combed the aisles, asking folks this highly open-ended question.
“For my family,” one person said.
“For our health,” said another.
“For our country,” a third replied.
Similar comments, all sincere.
The mic floated down the aisle toward me. I was next. What might I add?
I leaned toward the mic and said, “Cypress trees.”
Not fair. Not fair at all to my pastor. He replied, “Whaaa—
“Cypress trees.” I repeated.
Silence flooded the room like—well, like a swamp.
My mind had stuck on it. "Cypress trees." Seeking an answer, the only thing in my mind were those cypresses I’d seen in a Delta swamp the day before. I'd entered church that morning thinking about them. They had made a deep impression.
The trees that Saturday were on fire. Their teardrop-shaped needle clusters flickered burnt-orange like Red Top matchsticks when struck. And they were so tall, so high as to be like solitary swamp things. They were great cathedral-like beams pointing upward, reminding me of this: That Someone Who makes something so beautiful must want me to be happy—why else would He make such beautiful things?
And that cypress profusion of gnarled knees, heaving from the earth like great biceps, circling a mother tree, gathered underneath, always connected to her.
Nothing is like a cypress tree around Thanksgiving season. I think only two natural sights may be more glorious: 1) an entire swamp of cypresses, lush swaths of glittering gold, and 2) mallard drakes, dropping, swiveling, swerving into these shining paradises, northern wanderers come to rest. (Okay, or to be “harvested.")
So I said, “Cypress trees.”
My pastor ogled me. If eyes could gasp, his did. He may have stopped breathing. Temporary arrhythmia, perhaps—electrical impulses misfiring deep down in his heart and soul.
My five children know their dad is spontaneous and they weren't surprised by my comment; a few chuckled; another fist-pumped his brother in glee; all of them thought
There he goes again.
As sudden as the snap of a brittle branch, I realized the church had frozen. The pastor’s pulse had risen. I'd say to 150.
I looked to save the moment—“Uh … uh… I was walking in a Delta swamp yesterday, and I was just so thankful for God’s nature.”
That's better. Context. Context is everything.
Clusters of congregants clapped. The once-choked room was now cloaked in feigned calm.
One of the best preachers and men I know, my pastor dashed back for the pulpit. He got to preaching. I'd actually done him a favor. Anything he said now would be greatly welcome.
But today, on the day before Thanksgiving 2017, I walked in a cypress swamp again. I took photos to prove to you that I’m reasonable. What wonders of creation they are—aren't they? Today I felt like they were throwing a Mississippi revival. A sunny shindig encircled me, and I felt a spontaneous spiritual combustion.
From my walk.
A few days ago, my youngest son and I drove through our neighborhood.
And there one was, a cypress as fine as you'll ever see.
“Cypress trees,” my boy said, pausing. We thought the same thing.
“I’m thankful for cypress trees,” he said, smiling.
“I know,” I replied. “What a crazy thing to say. I should have come up with something better.”
“No,” he said. “That was perfect.”
HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM MISSISSIPPI MATTERS!