Stuffed; or better, My Cup Runneth Over

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarly this morning I was on my way to the grocery store for eggs and Rainier beer, because it’s Thanksgiving, of course.  As I drove along the familiar route, I looked up to the steeple of the Methodist church, and noticed a bird on top.  It took me a moment, because I wasn’t sure if it was a real bird, perched atop the cross on top of the steeple, or some sort of weather vane thing. It was 7:15 on Thanksgiving morning and no one else was on the road, so I just watched for a few seconds until the bird moved its head, and the mystery was solved.  Because I was driving toward what was left of the sunrise the bird was silhouetted, and I couldn’t tell what it was, but I guessed it might be a seagull.  Interesting.

For the rest of the drive I thought about the bird on the cross on the steeple.  Maybe it’s keeping watch, or having its own little vigil for all of its bird-kin who gave their lives today that we might enjoy turkey and dressing and the works.

I got to the store and immediately went to Starbucks, because Momma hadn’t had her morning coffee yet and it would just be better if I did.  I got my eggs, and noted the Safeway does not sell Rainier beer, and picked up a few things to make a pumpkin cheesecake I hadn’t planned on baking.  I thanked everyone at the store profusely for working on Thanksgiving.  They were all quite gracious, and said no problem, that’s why we’re here.  Nice.

On the way home I thought about food.  I thought about my plan to eat so that I’m full but not stuffed, and my intention for exercise today.  Then I thought about all the people who will be getting their Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter or soup kitchen, if they get any Thanksgiving at all.  I thought about the cut in food stamps, and the food that flies off the shelves at our local food pantries, and maybe yours, too.  I thought about the woman at my parents’ church who died recently, about her personal ministry of collecting food from  local stores and driving it out to the fields to feed the migrant workers.

Last night at dinner our daughter asked about the Great Depression.  She’s reading the American Girl “Kit” books, and wanted to know what a depression is.  I told her that her grandparents remember the Depression, and how her great grandmothers would give food to anyone who came to the house who looked hungry.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but it does stir stuff up, stuff about the privilege of having a table of friends or family to eat with, the privilege of drinking good wine and eating an ethically-raised turkey.  It stirs up stuff about people who don’t have community or food; it stirs up stuff about the gloss of the first Thanksgiving story.

We’re joining friends whom we love for dinner today; I am grateful that they invited us.  They’re not particularly religious people, so I imagine there will be no grace said at the table, which is fine, because I can say many graces of my own today.  So here goes – and a happy Thanksgiving to you.

God of bounty, who calls us to see the scarcity;

may we be full today.

May we be full of your stuff, and not ours –

full of gratitude, of course;

full of mercy for the things that go wrong;

full of sorrow for those who hunger;

full of hospitality to those who are lonely;

May our cups runneth over.

God who loves the widows and orphans, who calls us to look far to the margins,

may we hunger today.

May we hunger for your graces, and not ours –

hunger for some justice;

hunger for some healing;

hunger for kindness, humility, and faith.

Hunger for our suffering kin who are so depleted they cannot even wail.

Our cups do run over, God, because you love us.

Let us fill each other’s cups today.

Amen.

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The gathering

angel weepingHaving just led my third memorial service in three weeks, and with All Saints still fresh in my mind, and with one of our members in her last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about death and grief and community.  I’ve also had a lot of stiffness in my “angel wing spots” – that place just inside the shoulder blades that get tense and knotty.  I’m thinking it’s accumulated grief, having witnessed a lot of tears and soggy tissues lately.

I’m one of those who often says, “I don’t know what people who don’t have a church do when someone they love dies,” except now I do, because I’ve been a witness to that, too.  The first of the recent memorials was for a woman whose husband described her as “a very lapsed Catholic.”  Church is not his thing, and was not hers, but they needed a place to have a memorial for this woman who was an extraordinary advocate for justice in many ways.  The church, full of faithed and non-faithed people, was packed, like Christmas Eve packed. People wept, and sang, and gave testimony to her life.  I offered a prayer and a blessing.

The second memorial was for a woman who was a person of faith, but who had so many different communities of which she was a part – 12 Step, running, partying, engineers.  Again the people gathered, some have nothing to do with God, some relying on their Higher Power, at least one who follows the path of Buddhism.  God didn’t matter to so many of them, but gathering in community mattered very, very much.

So to my own question of “what do people who don’t have a church do when someone they  love dies?” I now answer: they gather.

And sometimes they gather in a church, because (at least for me) churches still offer the witness of hospitality, opening our doors to those who grieve. We don’t ask for proof of baptism at the door; we don’t preach that those who don’t believe in Jesus will go to hell when they die.  We open our doors. Because they – whatever they believe – need to gather, we do what we can – offer pews and organs and pianos and chairs, and tea and coffee and cookies.  We have projectors and screens for their slide shows, and tables for photographs and flowers. We have deacons who pass out programs and hosts and hostesses who refresh the bowls of nuts.

I think people are surprised that churches do this sort of thing, at least in this neck of the woods.  “You would let us have your service there?  But my loved one wasn’t a member/ didn’t go to church/ maybe didn’t believe in God.”  Yes, we would.  That’s what we do.  We witness to the hospitality of God by offering hospitality to the community.

In my All Saints sermon, I said “I imagine sometimes that the walls of the sanctuary have a patina, invisible layers of our songs and our prayers and the tears shed in this space.”  And here’s the thing: some of those songs and tears have come from people who don’t believe in God, who are shocked to find themselves inside a church, amazed that they are even welcome in a church.  But their tears and songs and silences are part of the patina too. They don’t have to believe in God in order to grieve the death of this person they loved.

There is a holiness in grief, and a privilege in witnessing it.  But I would like a little less of it, please.

Alas.