This time of year, we are reminded that being thankful is not for one day only, but for the whole of life. It is a healthy way to live. It is a positive and life-affirming way to live. In fact, it is as good as a commandment from the Scriptures, “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
We know it is a stress reducing practice to live as a thankful person. We know that thankfulness alleviates our tensions with other people. We know that it makes us easier to live with. In fact, we even know that it could lengthen our lives. Yet, we struggle to practice being thankful. That is an internal battle we will live with daily, but keep up the fight to control your mind toward thankful practices. It is worth it.
But, this holiday of Thanksgiving models another discipline, which may be far more difficult for us to learn to practice, and restore to our modern independent Western lifestyles: Communal Feasting.
The original ritual life of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures involves a lot of feasting and community gathering. Instead of going to a big building and sitting in little rows on the Sabbath, the people got together in homes and in festivals throughout the year. They ate together, or corporately fasted, or had a festival and played music and waved their grain in the air as a celebration of the harvest. (Sounds like the first festivals with spinners. I wonder if they did any fire spinning with the harvest sheaves?)
I am like my culture around me. I have a fierce independence, and often would rather be left alone, but I know that the communal feasting and celebration are necessary components of a full and transforming life of faith. This year, April Alario and one of the home groups from our little church invited international students from China and Iraq to a pre-thanksgiving feast. Christina, Jason and Sara opened their house for a pretty big group of people. It was beautiful. It made people happy. It forged new friendships. It was a break from the modern staid thanksgiving traditions of America, and an extension of what we should have learned from the original Thanksgiving story. It was also in the spirit of our ancient faith. Breaking from the modern western individualism, it took us to a beautiful communal space. Dennis speaks Mandarin, and this gave him a chance to practice his struggling skills with Chinese students from Brandeis, and Gordon-Conwell. We learned about one another. We made a temporary home for those who are far from home, and in one case for a man who had to flee his country because he had become a Christian, and was threatened with death by his own family. Well done gang. You are teaching us in the ancient ways of God.
A faith without thanksgiving is no faith at all. A faith without communal feasting may still be a faith, but it just might be a very sad one.