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The Grateful Photograph 

Each morning at dawn, the bells of the church across the lake play the hymn from a poem, “Morning Has Broken,” I love the tune. I thought it was a tune written by Cat Stevens in 1971. I wanted to include the lyrics to this 1971 tune, and in my research, I discovered the lyrics came from a poem by Eleanor Farjeon in 1931. The tune is ‘Bunessan,’ a Gaelic music that was first published (melody only) in Lachlan Macbean’s Songs and Hymns of the Gael (1888) as a setting for Mary Macdonald’s carol “Child in the Manger.” named after Macdonald’s birthplace Bunessan on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. 

The Bunessan tune is in many hymns: as a Christmas carol, which begins “Child in the manger, Infant of Mary,” “Christ Be Beside Me,” and “This Day God Gives Me,” both adapted from the traditional Irish hymn St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Another Christian hymn, “Baptized In Water,” borrows the tune. As I incorrectly knew the tune’s origin to be Cat Stevens, when factually, Cat Stevens, during a creative dry spell, used the melody and Eleanor’s poem to release the hit best-selling single “Morning Has Broken.”

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
, Praise for the morning.

Praise for them springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass

Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight

Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning

God’s recreation of the new day

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

God often wakes me at three in the morning for the fourth watch to pray and give thanks for the new day. The long winter nights of Dakotah give me five hours of meditation before the first light. I have this affliction; I have a holy restlessness to greet the new day’s light listening to Cat Stevens with a ready camera to capture God’s creation gift. 

Winter scene colorful skies and white snows of winter

Morning Buck at Whiskey Bay

Every new light of day humbles me, even the cloudy flat light. Some mornings take my breath away as a crescendo of color builds—I think the cloudy days give me special gratefulness for God’s creative colored mornings. I can see the first morning of creation and know God’s goodness. I had a photography instructor at the University of Hawaii tell me Sunrise photos are cliche—I pray for his sight to return as Cat Stevens plays the tune and God paints the new morning. In thousands of sunrise images, I cannot select a favorite; I imagine it will be tomorrow.

A foot of powder covers the landscape; it is, as everyone says, white as the new-fallen snow. The temperature reads nine degrees. I can see the stars, and the weather app radar shows a few clouds filled with morning flurries. The perfect combination for creation to bust out in radiant color. The fire burns in the stove, and I question my fortitude to dress, get the camera, drive to the church to worship, give thanks for the new day, and snap a few images to share. 

We have been building a new garage and a small two-story guest area on its south we call the crow’s nest. “The Nest” is the perfect place to greet the morning in a heated space. I typically set up a camera for a time-lapse video of the new morning; then, depending on my determination, I photograph randomly in the hills.

Thanksgiving is Thursday; the media fills us with disappointment and betrayal, making it hard for many to be thankful. In these challenging times, as the turkey cooks, we get our coats and glove, go outside to pray, and give thanks for the new morning as the first morning. If you have a camera, take a picture as a constant good news reminder.

To all, Happy and Grateful Thanksgiving!