HOMILY FOR THANKSGIVING 2013
TASTE AND SEE (PAUSE AND BECOME AWARE)
THAT THE LORD IS GOOD
I’d like to introduce a few special guests with us this morning . .
This Chayote squash that travelled all the way from Mexico to be with us — a distance of about 3400 km
n This plantain came from Ecuador — about 7100 km
n This can of Coconut milk from Thailand, a distance of 11,600 km
n And this beautiful orange journeyed to us from South Africa – 16,500 km!
100 years ago, this kind of produce would have taken weeks or months to get here – if it got here at all – and the affordability factor was much different as well.
Do you ever stop to think how incredible that is that we have food arriving from all over the world of such amazing variety? Do you ever imagine it growing somewhere – an orange for instance – going from seed to tree to green bud to this bright and beautiful orange colour in the warm sun of South Africa (or Florida or California)? Do you ever wonder – say about this squash here – does it grow on a tree or on a vine? How did it get from the farm where it was grown to Vancouver? By plane? By boat? Do you enjoy cranberries? Have you ever gone out into the country to watch them being harvested?
Their being here involves a series of events that are almost miraculous if you really think about it – certainly amazing and worthy of our appreciation. And that willingness to stop and wonder and appreciate is what we’re all about today, because it’s Thanksgiving, only now, unlike in previous generations, we are giving thanks for a harvest that comes from all over the world.
Thanksgiving in Canada is a bit of a murky story – we don’t have any pilgrims to thank, and it took many years even to settle on a date for Canadian Thanksgiving not to mention a definite reason to celebrate.
What is Thanksgiving? It’s instructive, often as not, to ask children:
I loved the little kid who said the first people who celebrated Thanksgiving were dinosaurs – and the little girl who when asked what her preference for a Thanksgiving meal would be, answered: macaroni and cheese.
According to Levi, a scholar in kindergarten, Thanksgiving started a long time ago — about 27 years ago in his estimation — and he suggested it would take about 10 minutes to cook a turkey.
And how do turkeys get here?
According to one child, Thanksgiving season is a time when turkeys all over prepare for the big day by taking off their feather jackets and climbing into the freezer. Ask your grandchildren—they’ll tell you – they’ll point them out in the grocery store.
We may not have any more idea than a four year old about the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving, but we all know that the turkey is the guest of honour — the unsung and underappreciated (and sometimes undercooked) hero of the day.
Ever since helping a farmer in my parish round up 5,000 turkeys to send off to market, I have felt something of a burden of debt to the turkey – a sense of obligation to tell their story and sing their song. To call someone a turkey is an insult, but perhaps it should be a compliment, because turkeys are actually quite amazing and ought to be appreciated for more than the way they taste.
Turkeys are visionaries — because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, turkeys have periscopic vision, which allows them to see objects that are not in their direct line of vision. My Grade 5 teacher could do that, but basically very few humans are capable of it.
Turkeys typically aren’t flighty (like some birds I know) – they’re very grounded and down to earth. Domestic turkeys, like most humans, can’t fly at all because they’re too weighed down by their own bulk.
But don’t underestimate them! You cannot outrun a turkey – the real ones can run faster than most people. And despite their bulk, in the wild they sleep in trees.
You’d think it would be the other way around, but it’s the males that gobble, not the females.
The fleshy flap of skin that hangs over the gobbler’s beak is called a “snood” and also turns bright red when the bird is excited. How many of you can say you have a snood? Actually, it might be helpful because then you’d know right away if someone were in a “bad snood” and you could keep your distance. Or perhaps we could use the word “snood” as a new adjective for road rage or something.
It’s too late now because someone has already named a country after it, but no less a luminary than Benjamin Franklin argued that the turkey should become the national bird of the United States, and you can imagine how differently history might have unfolded if Americans had chosen the turkey instead of the bald eagle as their national symbol (think of what the beaver has done for Canada’s self-image).
And we call turkeys dumb, but somehow they have managed to arrange for humans to provide them with food and shelter and safety, and yes, they are prepared to pay a very high price for that. So let’s be a little grateful (can I hear an “Amen” for the turkey?)
Thanksgiving is a matter of taking the time to reflect a bit on where things come from – not just the process by which they arrive in our stores. Anthony Bloom, an Archbishop of the Orthodox Church, spoke about the importance of a real sense of gratitude for the simplest things:
“I have experienced this once in a most unromantic and unspiritual way. When I was a teenager I remember travelling to a place and I calculated my journey very well because I hoped I would arrive at the moment when people have lunch, and I thought that if I arrived in time they couldn’t possibly make me wait in the next room without giving me something to eat. But of course my train was late, and I arrived after lunch, ravenously hungry. I was with a friend and since we were really too hungry to go on, we asked whether there was anything they could give us. They said, “We have half a cucumber.” We looked at the cucumber and at each other and thought, “Is that all God can give us?” And then my friend said, “And now let us say grace.’ I thought, “Goodness, for a cucumber!’ My friend was a better believer than I and more pious, so we read [the office of] None together, and then we read a few more prayers, then we read the blessing of the food, and all the time I had difficulty detaching myself from the half cucumber, of which a quarter would be mine, and then we broke the cucumber and we ate it. In all my life I haven’t been so grateful to God for any amount or quantity of food. I ate it as one would eat sacred food. I ate it carefully, not to miss any moment of this rich delight of the fresh cucumber, and after we had finished had no hesitation in saying, ‘And now, let us give thanks to the Lord,’ and we started again in gratitude.” (fr. Beginning to Pray, p. 42)
When I compare an approach like that to the unconscious and ungrateful consumption which characterizes our modern approach to the amazing abundance of life, it’s like we need a wake-up call not to take all this for granted. When I see the mindless and addictive way in which we tend to vacuum food and material goods into our lives, overstuffing our bodies, our minds, our homes, and never really pausing to cherish anything but instead compulsively moving on to the next thing almost immediately, it seems clear that a major attitude adjustment would be helpful. Clearly, in an era when children think cheese is a vegetable and chickens have fingers, we’re out of touch.
“I ate it as one would eat sacred food,” Archbishop Bloom said.
In the great wisdom of Native people, which was dismissed and overlooked by arrogant and oblivious colonialists for far too long, there is a deep sense of gratitude, and of humility – a sense of perspective in seeing themselves as part of a larger picture and not separate and above the life of the Earth. In their view the Earth was Mother, and sacred. When they used something or killed something they offered apology as well as thanks, because they were conscious of how all life overlaps and intertwines and aware of the sacredness of life and the foolishness of waste, and so they also offered dances and songs of gratitude for the lives they took to feed themselves. “Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live,” a Sioux prayer says.
Ironically, it was the Native people who introduced the New England colonists to the turkey and gradually they in turn passed it on to Canadians. In our time, it is time to learn from First Nations people in a way that our ancestors largely failed to – I believe we can learn a great deal from their ways. A prayer rooted in the Iroquois tradition goes like this:
We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams which supply us with water.
We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters, the beans and squashes, which give us life. We return thanks to the bushes and trees, which provide us with fruit.
We return thanks to the wind, which, moving the air, has banished diseases.
We return thanks to the moon and the stars, which have given us their light when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to our grandfather He-no, that he has protected his grandchildren from harm and evil and has given us his rain.
We return thanks to the sun, that looks upon the earth with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children.
Theirs is a wisdom that connects us with God as our creator, a wisdom that inspires us to appreciate and understand and relate to the Source – the process – and to see ourselves as part of a chain that doesn’t begin or end with us.
The processes, the systems, of our day, and our part in them, are more complicated today than ever, which is all the more reason to reflect and become aware of this larger organism in which we live – this universe – this cosmos – this vast network of relationships – and to do our best to act in a caring and responsible way.
At Thanksgiving let us stop to appreciate the sacrifice involved, the complexity and difficulty involved, and the ingenuity and variety of it all. Being here this morning, and even the simple act of pausing to say grace – pausing to reflect with gratitude – is an act of liberation from our compulsive and unconscious tendencies. Life is an amazing gift, so by all means, make Thanksgiving memorable, a true expression of gratitude. Take time to appreciate and savour and express thanks. Become conscious and aware and do the food, the people who produced it, and God who creates everything, the honour of telling the story. Think how much fun and memorable Thanksgiving would become if you incorporated a Turkey Dance or the Song of the Orange into your ritual around the table!
So the answer is “No Virginia, the turkey didn’t just take off its feather suit and obligingly climb into the freezer just to be there for you.” But Happy Thanksgiving anyway and may God grant you the grace to be grateful.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers+
Deuteronomy 26: 1—11 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God,5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us,7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God.11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.
Colossians 3: 12–17 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
John 6: 25—35 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ 28Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ 32Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.