Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Resemblance is More Than the Food

We are traveling today.  It isn't quite "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go," but it is the general idea.  We are gathering with family -- the first of a couple such assemblies over the next few days.  In both cases our physical nexus will be the kitchen and the nearby table -- both involving far more culinary activity than is good for us -- but the familiar recipes will not be the only relevant assets; in fact, they won't even be the most important.  The very fact that the recipes and the gatherings, themselves, have become "traditional" is indication that life has been lived and love has been forged through countless experiences, tiny and immense, that are worth recalling and repeating and sustaining. 

I get sort of misty-eyed when one of the kids calls -- as Christopher did yesterday -- to ask about a certain recipe.  In the absence today of both of their parents, the kids are hosting a Thanksgiving gathering for friends.  Everyone is bringing something to the table, but among the things that my kids are bringing to that table are dishes they have traditionally enjoyed around ours.  I treasure watching those threads get woven into their own chosen traditions.  It gives me some hope that other things from our common life together have found residence in their souls beyond vegetable casseroles and smoked turkeys. 

In all these gatherings and the logistical planning required to schedule and accomplish them, in all the traveling, in all the dirtied pots and pans and the crowded plates and mounded whipped cream, in all the stories retold and experiences remembered and and updates provided, in all the ruffled feathers and knowing glances and in all the parting embraces, we remind ourselves of the awesome, miraculous blessing that we have something to do with one another.  And here, around these tables, convened with families by blood and families by choice,  we remember and comprehend -- even when we might rather be somewhere else, and despite our capacity to get on each others nerves -- our connectedness is a precious and inseparable part of what makes us who we are. 

And we are grateful.  We have other blessings, to be sure -- indeed, our pens have inadequate ink, our tablets inadequate paper, and our days inadequate hours to list and count them.  But the comprehension and affirmation of our relatedness -- that we are more than ourselves; indebted to more than our own efforts; nourished by more than our own gleanings; warmed and encouraged and comforted and cautioned by more than our own embrace -- is almost certainly the richest blessing we can know this side of heaven. 

And the closest resemblance to it.  No wonder scripture's favorite metaphor for it is a banquet.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tapping A Latent Spirit of Revolution

It's a little embarrassing that I feel so good about it.  It simply shouldn't be this big of a deal.  Alas, but it is.

Time gets sliced up and packaged in various familiar ways -- the Renaissance Period, the Romantic Period, the Industrial Age, the Age of Enlightenment; Modernism, Post-modernism, and then anyone's guess.  The whole of my years could well be labeled "the Consumer Age."  All my life the cultural forces have been aligned behind the impulse to shop.  And I mean "all."  Local churches and TV "ministries" have taken the "if you can't beat them, join them" approach, hawking all kinds of consumer goods.  And even the government.  When hijacked airliners were flown into New York skyscrapers on September 11, 2001, the best advice our elected leaders could offer was "get back out there and shop."  Mine -- and certainly the ones who have come after -- is a generation bred and reared to do just that.  Our closets are full, our car trunks are stuffed; thankfully entrepreneurs conceived of the genius to build rental storage units -- an enterprise for which previous generations had no use.

I would like to say that I have been above all this -- that I have eaten only when hungry; that I have purchased only out of need; that my closets could be used as bedrooms for all the extra space remaining -- but that is sadly not the case.  I -- like every available storage area in my house -- am overweight.  Shelves are crowded, closets are full, drawers can hardly close.  Every now and then we reach a saturation point and load our cars for a deposit at Goodwill or the church's rummage sale; but it is like withdrawing a finger from the ocean -- it scarcely leaves a mark.

And so it was that, chilly outside, we opted yesterday afternoon to walk around the mall.  We tied on our running shoes, drove across town, and commenced our stride.  It was, to be sure, an intermittent pace.  We stopped at William Sonoma; we stopped at the Apple Store; and here; and there.  We felt the seduction...

...and walked away.  Perhaps it was the echo of Stephen Covey (of 7 Habits fame) encouraging us to put some distance between stimulus and response; perhaps it was the vivid recollection of our already crowded shelves; perhaps it was a new-found frugality that simply didn't want to spend the money.  Or perhaps -- and this is actually my hope -- we simply recognized that we needed nothing that we saw.

It's counter-cultural, I know.  But having spent my formative years in the '60's, revolution is in my bones.