Feast – reflecting on community and intimacy

Our liturgy this morning was on the theme of feast. I am including the reflection I shared, in both text and video forms as well as the bulletin which has most of the service text. There are a few bits missing from the bulletin, but the most exciting bit was that the Fallen Angles played “Changes” by David Bowie as a Postlude and tribute. Thanks to everyone who sang and danced along.

HT bulletin Sun Jan 17, 2016 (not quite the final bulletin, but close enough for jazz)

Homily text follows. The readings this morning can be found in the bulletin, but were a text atrtributed to St. Brigid about feasting with the folk of heaven, a reading about the Potlatch, and the gospel was about Christ’s first miracle at a wedding in Cana.

The Feast

food, drink, relationship and intimacy

We value feasting here. I know that many of us are missing the soup and other goodies that have followed our Sunday gathering for so many years. We know, at least unconsciously, the power of gathering over food.

Thanksgiving is long past, but as I poked around looking for thoughts and texts on the theme of feast, I stumbled across this cheerful book on Amazon.com called, “This is the feast”. Here’s the blurb:

“This is Thanksgiving, a time to remember the friendships and freedoms we all share together.”

The Pilgrims embarked on their legendary Mayflower voyage in 1620 in search of religious freedom and a better life. The settlers were unprepared for the hardships they would face at the end of their journey, but with the help of their neighbor Indians, the Pilgrims survived the first year in their new world. Then, when their fall harvest was plentiful, the Pilgrims and the Indians joined together in a three-day celebration, the first Thanksgiving.

I felt ill as I read this. This whitewash of the reality of the US tradition of their thanksgiving holiday is thoroughly debunked, but like many lies and urban legends lingers on as “the truth”. While the Canadian tradition of thanksgiving is a more straightforward harvest festival without the historical lies of the US version, we know that much of our history is all too similar. And the suppression of the truth remains a significant part of the problem.

I expect most of us here are aware of the suppression of the Potlatch. We may be less aware of the Anglican Church’s involvement in the removal and display of Potlatch ceremonial objects. Some might argue about the explicitly named reasons for the suppression of the potlatch, but the truth is very close to the truth of residential schools and other acts that aimed to break the power of community. A community that is unable to meet in ways that allow trust and intimacy to develop is a weakened community.

Historically our church has been allied with colonial power. That is less so now, and many actively try to make a different path: an anti-colonial one. However, the same colonial and divisive powers are still at work in the world. These days, they are more often held in the hands of corporations and other multinational economic powers, but governments and others remain accomplices.

We are often set apart from each other. Our differences highlighted. Wedge issues fed or created. We are made into individual consumers rather than citizens of a common land. Members of a community. We try to resist that here. As do others in other places, but we are not immune to the fears which drive us apart even here.

Wedding Feasts. Potlatch. Funeral luncheons. Pow wows. Christmas dinners. Cocktail parties. Irish wakes. We gather over food and drink, and sometimes gifts, to remember common experience, to share and build intimacy and trust. It is a good starting place. An opened door. The question whenever we pass through that door is always, how much can I trust? How much dare I risk? It is a hard question. I think we have all had both positive and negative experiences in these places. Finding swift intimacy with a new friend you are thrown together with at a table group. Disbelief at the wilful ignorance of your new brother-in-law, unable to listen beyond waiting to repeat their one unsupported point.

We can come to a gathering open. Willing to hear others where they are. We can try to speak only about our own feelings and desires, share information and resist projecting our assumptions on others. But how can we know that that care will be reciprocated? How can we know that we won’t have our buttons pushed and react badly to another’s sweeping statements?

I return to Holy Trinity because it holds for me some of the ideas and feelings that I hold dear. It is a family of sorts. But like my birth family, or even my marriage, there can sometimes be a fear of sharing too much, or of asking hard or challenging questions of each other or the community, family or partnership.

My father is all too fond of saying that there are three things one should never discuss: “politics, religion and another man’s wife”. Hmm. I’m not even going to try to deconstruct all of the baggage in that statement, but the very reason that most people find talk of politics, faith, relationships, money and sex so hard is that they are so important in our lives. When we choose to avoid talk of the important parts of our lives, we impose a distance on a relationship.

Avoiding hard questions, even for good reasons is harmful to intimacy in a relationship. I learned this painfully in my marriage over the last few years. There had come to be some topics that I no longer raised because they seemed unproductive and would only lead to pain. But that didn’t make the issues go away. And the act of avoiding some topics created distance, diminished intimacy.

When I went on a trip alone in October, I found the space to really wrestle with what I wanted in life. I was filled with assumptions about our shared life and thought that when I returned I would be taking apart my marriage. But I knew to do that with integrity, I needed to be completely honest about everything I felt, wanted and dreamed. To do less would not honour the life and intimacy we had shared. Even if that meant the marriage was finished, it at least might mean we could remain in some kind of relationship in an honest way.

They were not fun conversations. They were not easy. But they renewed intimacy, even in their pain and discomfort. Maybe even because of the pain and discomfort. And because we stayed deliberately open to and trusting of each other, we were able to find a way forward together.

I’m happy to say that we’re still married and I see no end to that. I am grateful. But I am also grateful to discover that we actually still want to grow in ways that are compatible, even if that wasn’t so obvious not so long ago. Out of this personal experience, I carry a renewed clarity about the dangers of assumptions and of the risks of avoiding difficult conversations.

At Holy Trinity we have our own set of assumptions. Many of them were forged in thoughtful and open discussion many years ago. But we have fallen into the habit, through lack of time and energy or fearing disagreement and division, of not having serious theological discussion. Of not re-examining in a deliberate way our common liturgical life in light of our current beliefs, whatever those may be. I think we need to build a habit of engaging in hard questions together.

I think that there was some hope that the forums might accomplish some of this, but the number of people and the time available, have typically made those more of a brief airing of opinions. This is not a criticism of that, but simply a hope that we can find a way to foster more deep conversation about theology, faith and other issues of importance to us.

It may be hard to make the space for this. It is hard to be the first to speak and risk. Maybe some of this will happen at the upcoming potluck. Maybe we can start to have some “hard questions” gatherings to talk in small groups about what matters to us and how we might express that when we gather.

Let us feast regularly.

Share boldly.

Listen compassionately.

Honour each other’s risk.

Let us renew the intimacy of this family.