Ritual

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Thanksgiving in the States is a fascinating cornucopia of activity. A shortened school and work-week partnered with too many trips for groceries, house cleaning, house guests, travel, football, over-eating, naps, pre-dawn bargains and the official start of the Christmas season make for memorable moments. Such things, and more, are the cultural memes of late November.

For the most part, I enjoy holiday rituals. Some things are worth repeating (Can I get an “Amen!” for Thanksgiving leftovers?). Perennial practices gather and bind us together. Their familiarity lends stability to our living. Even undesired rituals, like green bean casserole, provide an endearing point of connection.

The ritual of Thanksgiving affords us space to pause and reflect. To rehearse the past, remembering the happy and sad. Losses and gains. New friends, better friends, and departed friends. All the moments of laughter, regret, celebration, frustration, victory, disappointment, starts, stops, transitions, accomplishments, and everyday ordinary moments that color our lives.

So before that second (or third) helping this week, take time to sift through your story. Talk face-to-face. Celebrate, grieve, laugh, and lament with each other. In our best and worst moments, God is with us. He is better to us than we know or deserve. And for that, we can all be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Five Kernels

Four hundred years ago, a ship full of religious zealots left the coast of England to begin a mythic journey. It started with bad weather and a detour. Then delay. When the journey resumed, it was riddled with disease and death. The destination promised freedom and opportunity. But what greeted these travelers was hardship and discouragement.
In the fall of 1622, sandwiched between an untamed North American wilderness and the Atlantic shoreline, those zealots – called pilgrims – prepared for winter. The summer growing season had been plagued by drought. Fall brought forth a meager harvest. Food stores were exceptionally low as a cruel blast of uncommon cold ushered in an early winter. 
This humble group offered fervent prayers for their daily provision. At their lowest and most desperate moment, each person in their small community was rationed five kernels of corn – for the day. Five hard, dry kernels.
Five kernels. Small organic bits of hope. Kernels that may have been nervously rolled between frail, dirty fingers. Held tight in little hands. Sucked in wanting mouths. Gobbled quickly. Shared. Perhaps a few were pocketed for later – assuming there would be a ‘later’. 
What a bleak and dreadful winter that was for our pilgrim ancestors. They survived on little more than corn kernels – kernels like those we toss in the garbage after a movie. Yet by God’s grace not a single person died from starvation during that barren winter season. And out of such terrific despair grew a national celebration of thankfulness and gratitude.
On one level, it’s difficult for me to connect with that story. Why? Because I’ve never lacked for anything – at least not in the way the pilgrims did. I’m very well fed. In fact, I’ll be having dinner shortly. I’m far from malnourished and never far from a well-stocked pantry. I am blessed. I should be thankful. But with all things common, it’s easy to presume. Which brings me to the Thanksgiving holiday.
I grieve the treatment Thanksgiving gets – from our culture, and at times, from me. This national family gathering seems more and more like a pep rally. A collective frothing-up of materialistic lusts in anticipation of big sales and outrageous deals. ‘Tis the season of economic stimulus. And in the melee it’s tempting to relegate Thanksgiving to ‘speed bump’ status as we accelerate toward the main event (aka: Christmas).
Now, I realize that short editorial on Thanksgiving celebrations is not true of everyone. My comments are a generalization based solely on my observations, perceptions, gut feelings and personal failings. But if you’re nodding your head in agreement or feeling convicted, stay with me.
Despite my deep enjoyment of Thanksgiving, I can be tempted to give only a tap to the brakes while speeding head-long toward the 25th of December. Even with a thankful heart, the busyness of the season can water-down my giving of thanks. I don’t like that.  
So to help engender a greater spirit of gratitude, I’m reflecting on the pilgrims and that winter of 1622. In honor of their sacrifice, I’ve crafted Five Kernels. Kernels to aid with deflecting cultural distractions. Five focal points for engaging my story with God’s story. Five pithy statements to help me be still, listen and reflect on God’s goodness. Here they are:

My Five Kernels
~ I belong to God.
~ Life is not about me.
~ Trust God and leave the consequences to Him.
~ Entitlement and contentment are not compatible.
~ Don’t take anything, anyone or any day for granted.

There’s nothing magical or sacred about my kernels. They reflect where I’m at right now with life circumstances and my journey with God. My set of kernels next year may be different.  

A few weeks ago I asked if you’d join my protest. As we think intentionally about our blessings today, consider taking time to craft your own set of kernels. It won’t take long. Once you have them, hold them close. Pray over them. Treasure them – like the pilgrims did with their kernels.
Indeed, we have much to be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving!