Gathering together

November 25, 2010 — Leave a comment

Blessed is the Lord our God, Sovereign of the universe, who sustains the entire world with goodness, kindness and mercy.
God gives food to all creatures, for God’s mercy is everlasting. Through God’s abundant goodness we have not lacked sustenance, and may we not lack sustenance forever, for the sake of God’s great name.
God sustains all, does good to all, and provides food for all the creatures whom God has created. Blessed is The Lord our God, who provides food for all.

Jewish blessing after a meal

Today Americans celebrate Thanksgiving to remember God’s provision of food for the Pilgrims. But this wasn’t like the manna that dropped down from the sky. Instead, as with many of God’s gifts, He used people as His instruments of care [in this case the local native Americans who shared their expertise and resources with the Pilgirms].

For the first half of my life, Thanksgiving was a family affair. Several generations would come together, grandparents, cousins and nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, to feast on my mother’s baked carrots and my grandmother’s Pennsylvania Dutch filling [potatoes and bread mashed together].

When we moved to New Jersey, we sometimes had an opportunity to invite non-Americans to join us for the Thanksgiving feast: Greeks, Turks, Canadians. I didn’t know that some day I’d be the foreigner flummoxed by strange holidays that appear out of nowhere. Since going overseas, we’ve continued to celebrate the holiday and our table has been graced by friends from South Africa and France, Morocco and England and Germany, along with other Americans.

The last two years, we’ve been visiting C and her family in Chiang Mai and we’ve gone to a local American restaurant.

It’s a little strange to eat mashed potatoes and cranberries in the land of pad thai and mangos, but it beats trying to stuff a turkey into a non-American oven. [American ovens, if you think about it, must be designed specifically to hold big turkeys.] Of course if we were following the spirit and not the letter of the law, we would be having rice and green curry–and celebrating the rice harvest which is going on now.

It also feels odd not to eat at home with family. But the first American Thanksgiving was a community-affair, and with people from two different cultures and some new strange foods and customs, it couldn’t have been very cozy. I don’t think the Pilgrims minded though. They were just happy that they had survived.

Thankfully, my life is so much easier and full of comfort. But comfort can bring thoughtlessness and a lack of gratitude. In a world of fast food, I often forget that producing what we eat is a long and hard communal effort.

Take rice for example. Up until last week, I don’t think I had ever seen a rice plant up close. My rice appears on the grocery store shelf, cleaned, husked and packaged. All I have to do is put it in my shopping cart, and then go home and put it into a pot of boiling water and presto, I’m ready to eat. It’s an amazing convenience that I take for granted. But after visiting a rice field, I got a glimpse of all that goes on first: from the Sovereign God who created it to the farmers who plant the seedlings to the harvesters who cut the mature plants bending over from the weight of the grains, [or who operate the harvesting machine, depending on where you are].

So today I’m thanking God for the people who grew and prepared the food on the table: those who plowed the ground and planted the seed, who watered and weeded, who harvested and hulled, who packaged and transported, who chopped and cooked and cleaned up the pots afterwards. Left to my own efforts, I’d be pretty hungry. Instead, I’m enjoying an abundant feast.

And I’m thanking God for those I share the meal with, not only my family but the other, less familiar people who remind me that I’m always part of a larger community whether I’m close to home or far away.

All creatures look to You
to give them their food at the proper time.
When You give it to them,
they gather it up;
when You open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.

Psalm 104:27-28

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