The first big crisis in a relationship is not the day one partner finally gets tired of picking up the other’s socks. It’s not the first time partners fight over the right way to balance the checkbook, or even the right way to hang the toilet paper. The big crisis breaks the first time they cook Thanksgiving dinner at their own house.
“That isn’t stuffing!” she says, “Stuffing has apples and raisins.” Her mother made it with apples and raisins. “It is too stuffing!” he replies. “Stuffing has sausage and nuts.” His mother’s stuffing had sausage and nuts. Persuaded by the memory of a taste, each is certain of the truth about stuffing, and each is compelled to reproduce the pattern of perfection learned long ago.
The stuffing crisis is a hard one because it’s not really about stuffing. It’s about truth, ultimate harmony, right order. The memory enclosed within taste buds is the flavor of home. To have stuffing now the way it was then is to persuade our tongues and tummies that we are the same now as we were then, that things are good now like they were then.
Nostalgia has a way of distorting memories. Things are more complicated than wafting aromas suggest. It’s not for nothing that at this time of year TV sitcoms make us laugh and Hallmark specials make us cry at the anxious, ungainly spectacle of families regrouped around turkeys. At Thanksgiving, some folks don’t, won’t, or cannot go home.
For many, the nostalgia of the holidays isn’t about what was, but what ought to have been, if only. If our mouths water with nostalgia, they water also with desire—for firmer ground, for knowing and being known, for a love that circumstances can’t alter.
Dwell for a while on the thick sweet smell of nuts and sage, raisins and apples, and you will sense the source of such longings, the truth about our life: we were fashioned for a joy so fragrant we can taste it. We were made with hungering hearts. We were created for a feast laid on richly like a dream, tantalizing and aromatic, at the center of our souls.
We were made by God for God and for the amiable company of God’s people, for fellowship as pungent as precious ointment squandered by a woman on the weary feet of Jesus. We were made to sit down at a table where the feast is God.
“O, taste and see!” the ancient psalmist sings, “Taste! You’ll see how good God is.”
We are a people with a taste for God. Our history is one vast story of feeding on mercy and steadfastness, our life a drama of sustenance. Even in the harshest famines and the longest droughts, our memory floods with aromas that make our mouths water with desire for beauty and justice, that make our bellies rumble with hope for what might last—faithfulness, deliverance, vindication, breath and life, children and children’s children, righteousness, and peace.
We remember that from age to age our Shepherd’s wine runs generous and free, our cup brims full, and the board is spread with kindness. We remember that in every place our Host makes room for all kindred souls and every stranger, every widow, orphan, lost or straying sheep, each enemy, and every child.
Because we remember, we find no comfort in consuming bitter food, like the narrow do, who live only in the past. Neither are we gratified by food too rich, like the fearful do, who live just for today. We find no joy snacking on junk and skipping meals, like the headlong and ambitious do, who live only for tomorrow.
In us is a different craving, the memory of a subtle, varied flavor, tantalizingly familiar and completely new. Rolled on the tongue, lingering on the palate, filling the cavities of stomach and soul—once sampled, nothing else is good. We want no other recipe. “O God,” we cry with our ancestors, “you are our portion and our cup. For you we thirst like deserts parched, lifeless, and without water.”
“Well, then, come,” the Spirit replies, “Eat my bread and drink my wine. Come to the feast I prepared for you.”
On Thanksgiving Day we assemble around tables to say, “We are not our own. All that we have and do, all we are, comes from and belongs to our Creator and Sustainer.” We assemble to give thanks for God’s all-providing.
But when we give thanks, we aren’t settling accounts or dryly honoring a benefactor. We are God’s own; when we give thanks, our taste buds tingle, our mouths salivate, our insides rumble, our olfactory memory drives us deep.That memory makes us more than thankfully awed at what God does and all God gives; it makes us awed at who God is. Our thanks is for all our blessings, but first and most of all for having gifted palates, lives imbued with a taste for God, a predilection for the generous wares of endless love.
By the power of that love and for its sake, and for the sake of a world sated with violence and contempt, for the feeding of a world that hungers for God, we assemble so that we ourselves might become what we have tasted—bread of righteousness, seasoning of justice, water of mercy, wine of truth and sweet peace for the weary of war. We must, then, eat, and eat our fill.
Taste, see. Discover how delicious, how very, very good God is. Today, we say this grace for all this grace: “God is our feast: Thanks be to God!”