By Sharon Nelsen
“Enter his gates with praise, enter His courts with thanksgiving,” the psalmist sings in Psalm 100. As we prepare our Thanksgiving celebrations, I find myself looking more closely at how I interpret celebrating that holiday.
As I reflect on family celebrations where we gather around an abundant table, I recognize a distortion about what is good. What is good is coming together, being with each other, listening, sharing, catching up on many aspects of each other’s lives. Being with each other in the context of a meal is a relaxing, enjoyable, healing and so often a fun-filled time.
How does that get distorted? How does it become something else? Sometimes the focus is more on the meal than on the people gathered; so all of the talk can be about the food. Those who prepared the meal like to be thanked, but no one really got on an airplane or drove half a day to talk mainly about food. Likewise, the turkey isn’t the only animal being stuffed at the meal. There is another distortion that overeating is a sign of gratefulness—to God and to the cook! How twisted is that?
Another distortion of a truth is that the way to relax, the way to enjoy each other, the way to celebrate being together, is to drink more alcohol. I began to understand binge alcoholism in my family—getting drunk was a way of celebrating—a job, payday, a gathering, it didn’t matter, it was a time to celebrate, and that meant drink--for having the alcohol itself was a sign of success--and the more alcohol one drank, the better.
Better, perhaps for the one drinking who needs the drug in order to relax; who works hard and so “deserves” some psychic time off (at least in their perspective). But what about those moderate family members? The ones who really want to be together in a meaningful, sharing way? What about those present who are actively working for sobriety? What about the minors around the table; the little children; What about those with restrictive dietary needs due to medications, illness, age, or allergies?
What does it mean to be a good host, to have good manners, to accept all present graciously? Who sets the standard at the table? What if the host is the one over indulging? What if the most “important person” present is also the alcoholic? What options are there for those who enjoy being together and don’t need excess in order to celebrate?
For me, it’s a matter of truth, and that means not joining in the lie with those who overindulge, no matter how accepted it is as an apparent religious mandate or a national pastime. Enjoy what is real and authentic in each person present and share your own authenticity. God is with us at table, present in all gathered, though perhaps smothered a bit in the excess.