Thanksgiving is a special holiday. And not just because of the food, family, or football. There’s something about it that, I think, makes it stand out from our other major holidays.
Setting aside the story about the Native Americans and Pilgrims for a second, we know that Thanksgiving is, at its core, a harvest festival. It began as time to celebrate that we had stored up enough food to last through winter. More than enough, in fact -- so much that we could afford to invite friends and family together for a feast to celebrate.
In the age of supermarkets, it’s easy to lose sight of just how significant this must have been. Imagine at the end of a long, hard growing season learning not only that you had harvested enough for your family to survive the winter, but that you had harvested more than enough – an abundance worth celebrating. You can see why you might want to set aside a day to gather, as a community, and give thanks.
These themes – abundance, community, and appreciation – are central to our work at CTC. We are constantly training ourselves and the communities that we work alonside to recognize abundance – to recognize that the resources needed to achieve our goals are usually right there, in our communities, contained within the gifts, skills, and passions of our neighbors. Often, when we do this, we discover so much more than we ever expected.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann has written at length about the tension between our culture’s “myth of scarcity” and what he calls the “liturgy of abundance.” He recognizes that our culture conditions us to be constantly focused on the things we don’t have, and drives us to work to accumulate more and more for ourselves – an activity that produces seemingly endless anxiety and insecurity. As a Christian theologian, he argues that this “myth of scarcity” is profoundly inconsistent with the vision of Creation we find in the scriptures. Time and time again in the scriptures, God provides more than we ever expected. The liturgy of abundance is, quite simply, the practice of reminding ourselves of that.
It’s hard work, though, recognizing abundance in the face of a culture that preaches scarcity. That’s why I think Thanksgiving is such a remarkable holiday. Right in the midst of the time of year when we are most focused on what we don’t have – when consumerism is in full-swing – we set aside a day to give thanks for what what we do have.
In CTC’s Communities of Shalom training, we always talk about the tension between scarcity and abundance. When we introduce participants to these ideas, we often use the popular folk story of Stone Soup. I was thinking about this story recently when reflecting on how Thanksgiving at my house has changed in recent years. As my brothers and sisters and I have gotten older, we’ve gotten to where we each cook one or two dishes and bring them with us to Thanksgiving. By each contributing a little, we’re able to pull together a bigger Thanksgiving meal than we ever had when my parents were responsible for providing everything on their own. That’s just one small example of the inherent abundance of community.
There are lots of different versions of the Stone Soup story, but here’s the one we use:
Once upon a time, there was a great famine. People jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbors.
One day, a peddler drove his wagon into the village, sold a few of his wares, and began asking questions as if he planned to stay for the night. “There’s not a bite to eat in the whole province,” he was told. “Better keep on moving.”
“Oh, I have everything I need,” he said. “In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you.” He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it. Then with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.
By now, hearing the rumor of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows in curiosity. As the peddler sniffed the “broth” and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their skepticism.
“Ahh,” the peddler said to himself rather loudly, “I do like a tasty stone soup.” The peddler recalled another time when he had enjoyed stone soup with some friends. “One of them happened to have some carrots to add to the pot, and oh how it sweetened the broth,” he exclaimed.
“I may have a carrot or two,” said one of the villagers. He went a fetched some from his home and put them in the pot. Others in the village soon began to recall their favorite soups. As they did, the few items tucked away in their cupboards came to mind. One after another they were off. They returned with some potatoes, onions, salt beef, and so on until there was indeed a delicious meal for all.
From that day on, long after the famine had ended, the villagers reminisced about the finest soup they had ever eaten.
On behalf of all of us at CTC, have a wonderful - and abundant - Thanksgiving!