Thanksgiving is a very special holiday that brings to mind and heart many beloved traditions and images.
There is of course, turkey…(even if you're vegetarian...)
Pilgrims and Native Americans…
Lions and Cowboys…
The Macy's Day Parade…
Hands clasped in prayer, offering thanks…
And last but certainly not least, the cornucopia, overflowing with an abundance of good things harvested from the earth.
The cornucopia's comestibles typically featured as overflowing also symbolize the variety of abundant blessings from God for which we're typically thankful:
Grapes - a symbol of family, friends and festivity. (After all grapes make wine!)
Apples - a symbol of health - one of the big blessings we give God thanks for always.
"Indian Corn" - a symbol of those who have taught us how to survive and even thrive (and this is who the Native Americans were to the Pilgrims).
Nuts - a symbol of the nutty journeys God can call us to take. (At least that’s what I’d say Thanksgiving nuts symbolize!) Many thought the Pilgrims, so inexperienced and ill-equipped for pioneering, were crazy to cross the ocean to a new frontier home.
Also, you of course, can't leave out of our cornucopia probe …
Gourds!!! Often several grace our horn o' plenty. They're green, gold, green-gold, white, bulbous, crook-necked, pillow-flat, ridged, warty…in a word, WEIRD.
Go ahead and ask the question. You certainly won’t be the first.
Why in the world are gourds a staple of Thanksgiving? What in the world are gourds good for, anyway?
They certainly aren’t something you’ll find as part of your Thanksgiving meal. In fact, they are said to be the most bitter fruit (vegetable?) of all.
No amount of mini-marshmallows, fried onions or gravy is going to cover up a taste that is bound to make you big-time gag.
And neither you nor probably anyone around your Thanksgiving table is aware of the gourd's remarkable history. Since the dawn of civilization, gourds, because of their hard shells, were used to make bowls, cups, eating utensils, storage containers…they comprised essentially your whole kitchen.
They also were used to create musical instruments of all sorts. Their seeds and leaves were crushed to create poultices for headaches, stomach aches, mental illness. And they were also turned into fetishes and sacred statues symbolizing fertility. You’d find them being prayed to in many a temple.
It’s hard to believe gourds at one time were hugely - YUGELY! - important for human survival and in so many ways.
Gourds very well may have been a significant aspect of life for Native Americans that first Thanksgiving, although now its totally lost on us. Today we may certainly appreciate the use of gourds in crafts, especially at Christmas. (Great uses for those “gourd leftovers,” still sitting in the cornucopia, uneaten and otherwise untouched?) But that's about it.
So…why be grateful for gourds? Why are they to inspire thanks, especially today as we sit around the feasting table?
From a Comic Lens perspective, I think it comes down to what St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
Paul suggests that in every circumstance, there are blessings to be found, and should be celebrated. (Note Paul doesn’t say we’re grateful for all circumstances; however, in all circumstances Divine gifts do manifest.)
Even in those circumstances that are, well, like gourds. Thoroughly bitter, having nothing in common with the sweet experiences surrounding them. Misshapen and warty. Those times that are nothing but “Ych!”
I have been reading the best book for Thanksgiving 2016. It’s titled Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is and is co-authored by Sr. Joan Chittister and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Uncommon Gratitude is a collection of short essays that explore the good news that inhabits such human experiences as “doubt,” “suffering,” “darkness,” “death,” even being a “sinner.”
How can being a sinner possibly make us grateful?? The authors note that when we realize we are sinning — something in our behavior/attitude or the behaviors/attitudes in the world around us is painfully out of whack — that consciousness allows us to make changes so we’ll do better next time. It’s always an opportunity for creativity and growth. We of course may wish we didn’t have to be creative and grow for such reasons, but since we’re human and hence going to “sin” no matter what, how wonderful there are some profound, joy-full gifts that can come from it. So…Alleluia for that!
A couple of my favorite chapters of this book involve “Division” and “Conflict.” These nightmarish human experiences are perhaps front and center of your heart and mind this Thanksgiving season, especially with all the tensions that remain following the Presidential election.
But there are reasons we can be very thankful for Division and Conflict.
I know, it sounds as weird as being thankful for Gourds.
The authors suggest when we find ourselves of a different opinion than another, we can celebrate it as a sign of self-differentiation. We have developed the courage and intelligence to form our own thoughts and share them. Bravo to our inner development!
But what about when such divisions move into full-fledged conflict? Isn't that something we’re to avoid at all costs (like tasting gourds, I’m thinking)? Perhaps; however, conflict still happens (can’t say the same about tasting gourd, thankfully).
Here is how the authors of Uncommon Gratitude look at it:
And the big bonus in finding the blessing in conflict - God’s presence helping us rise to the fullness of our human potential, full of compassion with others and with the self especially when stuck in locked horns - is that it empowers us to hear one another in a new way and maybe, just maybe, together find a creative solution that includes the elements of both original ideas but is very much its own new, fresh, and better possibility.
Just as gourds have profound importance most of us don’t acknowledge, they can symbolize to us those blessings of God which are truly profound, but remain unknown. Or, pushed aside as only bitter and warty.
Here as some suggestions of things you can be thankful this Thanksgiving (and always) - “gourd things” I’d call them.
1. Give thanks for problems in your life that are no longer problems anymore. Woo hoo, always nice to solve at least some of your problems!
2. Give thanks for the new problems in your life! We’re always going to have problems, and how great to be able to change out the old for some new. Again, it means we’ve solved at least something!
3. Give thanks for the problems you’re still struggling with. God’s love and grace is always with us in the struggle and what a blessing to discover that reality over and over again. !
4. Give thanks for the new directions you sense your life is taking - whether they are welcome new directions or not. What discoveries of God - and you - are to be made on this new leg of the open road!
5. Give thanks for all the surprising delights this day brings. That joys that inhabit and seek to erupt in each and every moment, especially the tough ones. They’re there. Paul promises it. I’d say from my personal experience it’s true. Alleluia!
In other words,
"LET GOURDS DRIVE YOU TO GIVE THINGS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, FOR THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS FOR YOU!"
(and what a journey that promises to be!!)
Happy Wonder-full Thanksgiving to you, to yours and to our world. So very grateful for you and for it all.