On Years that We are not Thankful
Thanksgiving is supposedly a time for gratitude and joy, particularly in light of the previous year. It seems to largely take the form of “name a thing you are grateful for” before we eat approach. However, my family times this tradition during Advent. Every Christmas my six siblings and all of our spouses share a Christmas meal aptly named, “Christmas Sibling Dinner.” We plan a menu week in advance, purchase a wine complimentary to our meal, make pre-dinner cocktails, post-dinner wassail, and conclude with our grandmother’s chocolate mousse. The responsibilities and cost are shared as equally as possible.
In the second episode of her podcast Edible Theology, Kendall Vanderslice reminds us that the table, the meals we share there, tell a story. We return to our traditional preparations, our rituals because of the story we embody and whatever past we are somehow reenacting. Our sibling Christmas table concludes with the reminder that our grandmother loved us and taught us to love food. In many ways, her spirit is what created this meal. Our table is filled with good, decadent food, complex wine, and a dessert that is valuable simply because it is delicious. The room rings with conversations (plural – as in several at once) and laughter.
At some point during the meal, someone will yell out something good from the previous year. And this is how our tradition began – with ease and joy. No awkward beginning or grandstanding exposition. We take turns going around the table naming the good, beautiful things that have happened and/or that we have accomplished. Every time someone names something, “Started my own business!” or “Had a baby!” all thirteen of us raise our wine glasses and cheer. It is boisterous, almost overwhelming with the joy that accompanies the holy tipsiness1 of our second glass of wine.
Two years ago, a tragedy happened in our family that affected us all and a few of us particularly. In a year that held tremendous grief, a celebration was ill-fitting. Instead, we began to share the pain we felt, the suffering made all the more poignant by our feast. Among the good, beautiful food and the story of love it tells, most of us cried. This year, our meal was, in many ways, a story of lament. There was good in our lives, but for now the grief was preeminent.
The interconnectivity of goodness and grief, joy and suffering is a long tradition in faith and Scriptures. The psalmists’ laments all contain (with few exceptions you can expect me to write about soon) outpouring of their suffering and hurt until they conclude with a word or promise of praise. The prayer in sum is this –
I am suffering. I am often suffering more so because it seems like God isn’t paying attention. I am asking God to be near to me, to advocate for me, to rescue me. I am mostly asking God to take my pain seriously. I will name my pain to the Lord, wailing and beating my chest. Because God loves me, my Lord will hear me and is with me. One day I will praise God’s name to all of God’s people; I will tell them that God is faithful. When others hear my story, perhaps they will see and taste that God has not abandoned us.
Gratitude and grief belong to one another – each made all more profound by the other. There are years that the praise will not be there, a lament will take its place. On the years it is there, we make our praise public because the truth is beautiful and deserves to be told. And perhaps for someone in their own lament, you can remember for them that even though their joy will never be so pure again, grief will not forever consume them.
What is No Ordinary Life?
The Gospel can be summed as simply as, “For God so loved...” Jesus too told us that he came out of abundance of love so that we might have life and have it abundantly.
In turn, Christians are bound by two commands. The first is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. The second is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:4-7; Matt. 22:37). In other words, life is abundant when the love we receive we return and we share, loving God, ourselves, our neighbors.
No Ordinary Life explores this Way of life.
I engage love of God - I explore our sacred stories in Scripture, the activity of God in history and today, the presence of God in community and in my life and yours.
I engage love of self - I explore the bodies we inhabit, the days we live, the stories of harm and healing we embody.
I engage love of neighbor - I host hard conversations about (in)justice, spiritual abuse, church hypocrisy.
I aim to create a space that is curious and compassionate, where doubt, fear, questions, grief, and rage are all a part of the faithful life.
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