A Thanksgiving Reflection

Recently while reading the gospel of Luke, I was struck by two passages that I had heard many times separately without realizing that they belong together:

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” 

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

What is striking about both of these passages is the lack of congratulations that God gives people for simply doing what is right. In the first passage (Luke 17:7-10) Jesus assumes his listeners understand that a master would not thank his servant for doing what, after all, is required of him. In the second passage (17:11-19), Jesus does not commend the healed Samaritan for returning. Instead he asks him why none of the others have returned to thank him. The thankful ex-leper is not considered to be especially pious or thoughtful. He is simply doing the obvious and clearly appropriate thing. Jesus seems to view the others as having failed morally by not displaying their gratitude, which is the bare minimum of piety for any Israelite.

One could get the impression that God receives our thanksgiving somewhat coldly, as if to say: “about time.” But I don’t think that this is what Luke wants us to conclude. When read side by side, these two texts raise an interesting question about the nature of thanksgiving: is it offered freely, or are we under obligation? Is it something we offer with joy, or with a sense of duty? The answer to all of these questions is, yes. God expects our gratitude but does not compel it. We are free to offer him thanks, or to withhold it. However, it is clear that if we understand the nature of our relationship with God and have any memory at all, to give thanks is the obvious thing to do. We are simply recipients of every good thing we have ever experienced. God is the giver of all good things. To thank God is to give Him His due.

But this does not have to be an act of joyless duty! The healed Samaritan returns to Jesus ‘praising God’. His act of giving thanks is clearly overflowing from his genuine gratitude of heart. And Jesus is not cold in receiving his thanks (despite offering no congratulations). Jesus receives the man’s thanks as a sign of his faith; a faith that has made him ‘well’ in more ways than one.

This Thanksgiving let’s strive to offer our gratitude to God both with a sense of the obligation we have to him AND with the genuine joy of the Samaritan who returned to Jesus. Why wouldn’t we give thanks to God?

-Ben Keyes

Ben has given several lectures on the themes of thankfulness and gratitude, most recently, “What is Thankfulness Without God?”  Listen to this lecture and others from Southborough L’Abri here.  

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Southborough L’Abri!







Back in the Virtual Saddle

Hello from Southborough, Massachusetts!  

While things may have been quiet on this blog for the past year, life at 49 Lynbrook Rd. has been humming along.  At present, we are on a working break for the remainder of the year (which means we are closed for students at present), but we are welcoming inquiries and bookings for the Winter 2018 term (Jan. 11-Mar.29).  See the Reservations page on our website for more information on planning a stay with us.

During these quiet weeks, the Workers have been meeting for prayer and a lunch discussion.  While lunch discussions comprise a core component of student life at L’Abri, it is rare for the whole team of Workers to have a full hour to explore a question together.  This week we asked each other, “How do you read the Bible?”  We find this to be one of the most common questions asked at L’Abri, and it is a very good one.  In the coming weeks, we will be sharing “snippets” from our discussion of this question with you here.

Additionally, you can look forward to:

  • Lecture recommendations
  • Glimpses of life at L’Abri over the holidays
  • Perhaps a poem, or recipe, or … ?

For those of you in metro Boston, mark your calendars for Dec. 1 & 2!  We are one of two houses hosting the Southborough Holiday Art and Craft Sale, Friday, 7 – 9 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Stop by for tea, cookies and beautiful, handmade gifts including photography, prints and cards, chocolates, jewelry, knitted wearables, journals and more.


-Sarah Chestnut





by Mary Frances Giles

If you are still searching for new dessert recipes this holiday season, then look no further! These cranberry crumb bars – along with their fraternal twin, the blueberry crumb bar* – are in heavy rotation at my L’Abri table, and are always, ALWAYS met with delight. If you want to win over your friends and relations, then this easy bar recipe is for you!

Cranberry Crumb Bars (from smittenkitchen.com)

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Zest and juice of one orange
  • 4 cups fresh cranberries (one 12oz bag)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and orange zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and orange juice. Gently mix in the cranberries. Sprinkle the cranberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes about 32 smallish bars. Enjoy!

*For a summer (and sweeter!) version of this bar, substitute blueberries for the cranberries, and lemon zest/juice for the orange.

Poems for Advent (IV)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut

A note of the form of this poem: For reasons unclear to me, WordPress does not respect the line-breaks and indentations of poems.  The intended shape of this poem is very different from what you see here.  Ah well.  If you are a serious reader of poems and would like a copy of the original, email me and I can send you an attachment: sarahcrowleychestnut@gmail.com.

In this final week of Advent, may the light and life of Christ be yours.  A joyous Christmas to all of you from all of us at L’Abri…


Light of Life

“In him was life…” (John 1:4)


Carry the Word in your hands, drop it

on a bench like a stone, set a wedge

to one rough edge, let the hammer fall,

watch it split like a geode, see a symphony



sun, river, shimmering motes, ring-tailed Lemurs,

metallic beetles by the thousands, jellyfish

like clouds, cattails, rat tails,

dance of the fire telling tall tales—

canter, slide and slink,

hummingbird, humdinger, twist, dance

and the rest of it—

Orca, orchid and orbits,

saw-wing swallow streaking like hail—

Kudzu of life fireworking all that is

to every far reach of this gratuitous universe—


because He is and his being is light

and light is a thing with a voice

and wings.  Light is that geode, planted

like a seed, his body a seed buried in stone.


And he is the word and the wedge and the hammer

dropping on the tomb, life splitting walls of darkness

like an infant pressed from the womb.

Poems for Advent (III)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut

This week I am pondering what it means that Jesus Christ is our peace.  I have long loved John 13-17: Jesus’s final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion, his humble act of washing their feet, his longing to see them love each other the way that he loved them, his promises to them–that he is going to prepare a place for them, that he will always come for them, that he is not leaving them alone, but in the gentle care of the Holy Spirit.  And there is this: his hard words to Peter, predicting his zealous friend’s betrayal.  Really?  Of all the disciples, Peter would turn tail and run?

Because our Bibles have chapter breaks, I never noticed that the very next words from Jesus’ mouth are these: “Let not your heart be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”  In this poem, I imagine those words spoken directly to Peter, whose anxiety (I imagine) was beginning to go through the roof.  And as the conversation unfolded, and all of Jesus’ weighty words about his leaving spilled out, I hear Thomas’s and Philip’s and (the other) Judas’s nervous questions rising from this same foreboding anxiety.  Jesus’s response?  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).  This is the kind of peace I want (and need) in the face of my own anxiety.

Simon Peter’s Anxiety

(for Annie)

Questions rose like a wave in my throat, questions

I could not wash down with the wine, the bread.

The water in the basin trembled as he drew breath

to speak words that rolled in my heart like stones—

until you have denied me, the rooster will not crow…

My questions stretched anxious hands, snatched

at tail feathers, the doorknob—I was an empty-armed child,

aching to be pulled close. The crumbs

around my feet grew heavy like bones, glinted white,

set the darkness in relief.

And there was a wild bird on that wave, rising

angry in my heart, beating frantic wings, hammering

a sharp beak from inside the cage around my soul.

He could have tossed a handful of seed to feed

that insatiable beak, and quieted, for a moment, those thundering

wings.  But instead he lifted new words

from the floor (those crumbs), slipped them between

my ribs like a key, turned until he heard the click,

set that wild bird free—

                                                    there’s a room inside you,

he said, where the Spirit will be, cupping warm hands

around the grist mill of your heart where these words will turn

and turn, will help you breathe: let not

your heart be troubled, I leave you with my peace.

Poems for Advent (II)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut


Love Speaks to Nicodemus

     “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,

      but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).


Here’s the thing, he whispered

through the darkness, words bright

like sun on a steel blade. Love

is like a fallen seed, held tight

as it breaks and bleeds. I am

that small seed come to bleed.

Go down to the dirt with me,

where darkness cracks you open,

fills your lungs with a quiet musk—

you will raise a birth-cry the color of rust.

This is the work of being born

again: cracked seed, water, soil, sun,

Spirit holding you in red hands

laid open, gentle, like a fan.


Always I have been leaning low,

ear pressed to hear the stones,

dropped limbs, spent leaves,

upward cry of lowly things—

for you ache upward, too, like dew,

have known that downward pull since the womb,

beginning that is an end, end that makes you sing:

the world is lovely because he loves it,

love reaches for the light, breaks open from the deep.

Poems for Advent (I)

By Sarah Crowley Chestnut

Back in October I had the privilege of attending a poetry workshop at OQ Farm in Vermont with a dear poet friend of mine. It jump-started what was feeling like a stalled-out writing life, and since the workshop, I have found writerly camaraderie springing up both close to home (Liz, in the other wing of this big, old house) and afar (Anna and Hilary at Swiss L’Abri, and Andy and Lindsey in Greatham). There are many reasons I love poetry and believe people should include poetry in the pile of books on their bedside table—it hones my vocabulary, it schools me in image and metaphor, it makes me a more perceptive reader on the whole, and this: it slows me down and helps me pay attention to life and language.

Yesterday we marked the beginning of Advent, the start of the liturgical year, and the season of watching and waiting—for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and for his anticipated Second Coming. To keep watch expectantly requires that we slow down and pay attention in a season when most of us are racing to check things off our lists (the gift list, the party grocery list, the cleaning-before-family-arrives list, the winterizing list, the decorating list). But to what—or whom—are we meant to pay attention? In his Gospel, Matthew answers this question in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight…” This Advent, we are invited to slow down and pay attention to Jesus, the one who proclaims justice to the nations, the one who does not shout out about himself, the one who is gentle with the bruised reed, the one who tends to a smoldering wick. The one in whom the nations put their hope.

And so, in hope that it might help you slow down and pay attention to Jesus this week, I offer you this poem. If all goes well, there will be one for each week of Advent.


Hope     (Matt. 12:15-21)

because we were hungry

because sunlight was thick on the fields

because his hands were at home

brushing the tops of golden wheat

because at his touch

the grain fell heavy

because we were hungry

warm kernels rolled like hope

over our tongues, seed of bread

ground like mercy between our teeth

because we were hungry

as hungry as a bent reed, hungry

like a flickering wick—

he whispered mercy, hauled up hope

cold and wet, bleating like some frightened sheep

(some say hope has feathers—

let us say it has a woolen fleece)

but because we only saw what we could see

because even eyes can want to feed,

we dreamed of grinding him like wheat,

pinning down those reaching hands—

the flour sack dropped—dust on everything—

dust on the Sabbath, he made dust on the Sabbath

but still we trailed him for healing,

laid hope wheeled in like the harvest at his quiet feet,

saw the traceable trail he tracked

through the dust on everything

because we were hungry, it was hope that fell

into our dust-covered hands, silent like a seed.