It is a cool November morning just before Thanksgiving. With each gust of wind, a new bunch of leaves swirls down towards the ground outside my office window. These trees have seen many seasons. They are older than this house, this neighborhood, this city. Perhaps some of them were here when the Lumbee, the Tuscarora, and the Occaneechi lived on this land.
Soon, We Will Gather
In a few short days, I will be sitting around a table filled with familiar foods. Since I was a child, I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and various “vegetable” side dishes such as macaroni & cheese. Thinking back upon all those Thanksgiving meals, I realize that I’ve often walked right through this holiday without ever taking time to engage with it beyond the physical aspect of filling my literal stomach.
Through Godly Play (a Montessori-based curriculum of spiritual practice), I’ve learned that in the hustle and bustle of 21st-century life, we often need time and a way to get ready to come close to the things in life that really matter.
Thanksgiving is complicated. It is layered.
There is the experience of delicious food and good company. There is the empty seat at the table, reminding us of a lost loved one or a broken relationship. There is the welcoming of chosen family into a shared meal. There is the awkward conversation with folks we see yearly but don’t really know. And there is the story of “’the first Thanksgiving,’ a narrative that ignores the devastating effects European colonization had, and continues to have, on the Indigenous people who reside in the United States” (Thanksgiving Day: An Alternative View by Bradley Hauff).
Thanksgiving is complicated. It is layered. As Godly Play reminds us, we may need time and a way to get ready to come close to this day.
Preparing for Thanksgiving
If you’ve ever hosted a Thanksgiving meal, you know that there is a structured way to prepare the food, the physical nourishment. A quick Internet search reveals myriad guidance on which foods can be prepared ahead of time and when exactly you need to start defrosting your turkey (a friend of mine learned the hard way that Thanksgiving morning might be too late for that task!).
But how do we prepare our hearts? How do we get ready to show up, with generosity, around a table with a bunch of other imperfect humans? How do we practice Thanksgiving in a way that does not ignore the genocide of Indigenous people?
A Poem & A Film
I actually have no answers to these complicated questions. All I can say is that I’ve tried to be more intentional this year. I’ve been praying for guidance in this preparation. I’ve born witness to the Indigenous experience through the film Gather. I’ve read and re-read and prayed Perhaps the World Ends Here, a poem by Joy Harjo.
This film and this poem remind me that this day can hold joy and sorrow. That tables can be sacred. That food can nourish our souls as well as our bodies. That gathering can bring healing. If, if I am ready.
- Read and reflect on Joy Harjo’s poem Perhaps the World Ends Here.
- Watch and discuss the film Gather, made in partnership with the First Nations Development Institute.
- Learn which Indigenous peoples lived in your area through Native Land Digital.
- Read Thanksgiving Day: An Alternative View by Bradley Hauff.
- Read The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story from Indian Country Today.
- Watch the recording of the webinar Native Voices: A Response to The Episcopal Church’s History with Indian Boarding Schools from Native American/Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church.