I work at a grocery store. The week before Thanksgiving is our “hell week”, so to speak. Kicking off the retail season with the toughest work we’ll do all year. Unpracticed customers are often cooking from scratch and entertaining family at the same time – enough to put anyone on edge. Add to that the modern-day demand that your Thanksgiving meal be some forward-thinking, healthier, tastier, prettier, more impressive version than last year’s, and you can hardly blame folks for the panic they feel.
However, alongside the panic is perhaps the most communal holiday celebration of them all. There is little political or religious offense available when you wish someone “Happy Thanksgiving!” Smiles abound and reasons to be thankful even slip into short conversations about turkeys and vegan gluten-free stuffing.
From the chaos of carts and smiles and scowls yesterday, I went upstairs for a quick lunch and to make a last-minute plan for our own small Thanksgiving meal. I flipped through month-old magazines, their covers torn off and sent back to the publisher for reimbursement, rejected and ready for recycling, but still full of fancy recipes, a few of which I may be able to pull off. And there, of all places, on the third page of Real Simple, my friend, Mr. Chesterton, interrupted to have a word… and what a word it was.
“You say grace before meals.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”
G.K. Chesterton, from an early notebook (mid-1890s)
So much fussing over a table of food, but is that really the focus of the harvest season? Or the first thanksgiving feast my nephew is re-enacting at preschool? We recreate the details we’ve inferred, with some plain omissions and substitutions. (Or maybe there were marshmallows on the sweet potatoes back on Plymouth, too, I don’t know.) We hope that somehow a lot of food and taking a turn before the meal to impress each other with the very deep things we’re thankful for will… will what? Set us up to indulge in laziness for an afternoon? Make amends with family members in time to get a better Christmas gift out of them?
What’s the goal of the day? Is it a time to revel in our resources? Maybe. Is it a time to celebrate the grace that brought us here? Definitely. Would we celebrate if we were alone? I wonder. To whom would we voice our thankfulness? What is grace or gratitude without community? Where can they live without relationships?
So often in the what and how of holidays, I skip right past the source of celebration – my community. A God who loves and cares, people who are vulnerable and allow me to be so.
Say grace, says Chesterton. Speak blessing and thankfulness before meals, before the play and the opera, before reading a note that may be full of spelling errors, or hearing a song that may very well be better than the last one I wrote. Speak grace before dishing up a serving of lumpy gravy. Speak favor and pardon to one another. Speak grace to the turkey (or soy bean) who gave its life for your sustenance.
Thank you to our community, near and far, for the gifts you bring to our lives, for the examples of grace, for the beauty you bring us from chaos. Favor and blessing on you on this day of feasting and on each day that follows.