I am ready to give thanks. Last year, I joined my family for Thanksgiving but when the food was served, I could only watch. Early in November of 2009, I had an attack of pancreatitis. Later, I learned it was probably due to a gallstone, but at the time it was a mystery. My diet throughout November was mostly liquids, then I progressed to soft bland food in December. But due to complications from a medical procedure, things got worse. From mid-December 2009 to the end of June 2010, I received most of my nutrition through a bag. It was pumped directly into my blood stream from 12 to 24 hours every day.
Before I got sick, I always enjoyed sharing a meal with others. After I got sick I realized I had been formed by those meals with others. Sitting around a table with family and friends, telling stories, sharing life, enjoying food, and drinking wine wasn't just something I did, but part of who I was. I would think back to all the family dinners I had taken for granted -- meals with friends that I had enjoyed but not thought much of.
Jesus made "the table" central to his ministry. He was always eating with people that he wasn't supposed to. When he gave parting instructions to his disciples, it was while they broke bread and drank wine together. The early church took this example seriously and focused much of their weekly worship around a "love feast." In my tradition, the first Sunday of every month was the day we remembered Christ and his sacrifice at the table through the bread and the cup. The table has not only been central to my family and social identity, but my religious identity as well.
It took a period of famine to realize how sharing a table with friends and family had formed me. Because of circumstances beyond my control, I could not come to the table and eat. Many in our country today are experiencing famine of a different sort. Almost 50 million Americans are now living in "food insecure" households. They can come to the table but it's not guaranteed that much will be on it.
There was no famine in the garden. Still, as we learn from the Pilgrims' story, times of want can prepare our hearts to celebrate that which we still have. I always knew that I should be grateful, especially at times of feasting, but I often wasn't. It took the reality of going without to understand what it meant to have. Simply knowing I should be thankful didn't always translate into real thanks. Appreciating the theological significance of "the table" and food did not necessarily translate into celebrating it.
Though my time of famine is over, I now feel challenged to fast. Fasting reminds us of those who are living through famine right now. It shows us that we do not live by bread alone. It challenges us to separate the things we so often depend on from the things we truly need. It is a discipline, to pull from Richard Foster, that we should celebrate.
I'll be feasting more than most this Thanksgiving and will be very grateful for it. I hope you get to feast too. After my own very different experience with famine, I am aware that I live in a country and a world in which famine still persists. While I enter a celebration of feasting I am reminded that my spirit needs fasting. I'm no longer sure I can truly give thanks without it.