Pentecost 178

Pentecost 178
My Proverbs 28

The Gathering

Somewhere around 950 ACE, the word “haerfest” came into usage. Approximately four hundred years later man had an implement that became known as the “harwe” in the Middle English language. Following the paths that languages took, based upon traveling bands and invading armies, the “w” sound became a “v”, the “ae” diphthong became just an “a”, and the word “harvest” entered the English dictionary.

The concept of a harvest was nothing new. Regardless of whatever story you believe about mankind’s beginnings, food was an integral part of survival. As man became communal, food needs became organized in how they were secured. One can wander around and eat berries but a clan soon depletes a thicket of available plant sustenance. Thus, as food sources became crops, the yield of those crops became an annual event. It is an unconscious habit to say a word of gratitude when someone hands you a small cake, piece of sweet, or drink; the mind recognizes the need for the body to have fuel. Many hands made short work of the harvesting of food sources and giving thanks for such was as natural as breathing.

Thus the countless harvest festivals held worldwide not surprisingly became festivals of gratitude. Yesterday those in the United States of America celebrated Thanksgiving Day. While many remember President Abraham Lincoln for being killed by an assassin or for being the president during America’s only organized national civil war, it was this president during this was that made the USA’s Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.

Today many countries are in the midst of their own civil war. Fanatical religious factions are holding parts of Iran under siege. Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are under similar threats from terroristic regimes attempting to overthrow the governments. Russia has acted in such a way as to incite and exacerbate the situation and governments in its former satellite nations. On a lesser note, several countries have infighting between native groups and the current governments. How many of those have stopped, in the midst of the turmoil and fighting, to proclaim a day of thanks? How many people caught in the battle between Islamic tribes and Jewish tribes find attitudes of gratitude, are able to see the good things for the fighting?

In his proclamation, Lincoln wrote: “t has seemed to me fit and proper that they [Lincoln had previously made note of the gains during the past year compared to the misery and fighting] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

Regardless of whether you celebrate this time of harvest thanks, time of communal appreciation and gratitude in November, October, September, or whenever, many things are constant and one of those things are the expectations of family gatherings. All too often, this holiday, like others, brings with it a sense of drama and unfulfilled expectations.

The community which sprang up centuries ago around the fields of food led to our present day family unit and celebrations. However, family relationships are complicated. Families share similar DNA and yet, no one member is an exact clone of another. Even identical twins have differences of opinions, varied tastes, contradictory likes and dislikes. As family members age, recollections differ, stories are told in various recantations, and what seems funny to one group causes pain in another. Add to that the various ages and stages of aging and the mental issues that often arise with such and the stage becomes set not for care-free celebrations but intense family dramas that result in hurt feelings, stress, and anxiety. Going “over the river and through the woods” to a family gathering becomes a trip to an emotional mine field.

Holidays can cause so much stress that there are catch phrases for it such as “holiday blues; holiday blahs”. Even the website webmd.com has multiple entries regarding such including one which speaks directly to the gathering of family. “During the holidays, a lot of childhood memories come back,” says Duckworth, who is also an assistant professor at Harvard University Medical School. “You may find yourself dwelling on what was inadequate about your childhood and what was missing.” Even parents, especially older parents, can lead the drama. The same parents who years earlier would have disdained elevated anxiety are now seemingly causing it.

Any group of people is also a group of personalities. With that comes a gathering of not only food but possible health issues, both mental and physical. Suddenly one becomes caught up in differences instead of similarities. What has been easy to ignore the past eleven months suddenly becomes impossible to bear.

Many all over the world are just entering the winter holiday season. Whether rejoicing in a good harvest or trying to brighten the dreary winter months, families will gather, friends will party. Expectations will be high, perhaps impossibly too great. Just as many have forgotten that the American Thanksgiving Day became legal in the midst of fighting and the grief that such brings, we forget that the past year also brought the spoils of planting as well as the bountiful harvest. Sri Sathya Sai Baba once said: “Life is a mosaic of pleasure and pain. Grief is an interval between two moments of joy. You have no rose without a thorn. The diligent picker will avoid the pricks and gather the flower. There is no bee without the sting. Cleverness consists in gathering the honey nevertheless.”

The fragility of life includes both the thorns of living as well as the sweet smell of harvest and beautiful vision of joy. It has been said that only a country such as the United States would legalize a day of giving thanks in the midst of a civil war that pitted brother against brother, town against town, region against region. Perhaps we should not be surprised that such a gathering of people, in spite of continued differences, annually celebrates that day and the hopes it represented then and now. Perhaps that is why we continue to gather in spite of drama and remembered grief.

Perhaps we should return to the origin of the thanksgiving celebrations and think of the harvest. No farmer always reaps a plant from every seed. Earlier this month, the University of Illinois Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics released a comparative table of average annual percent changes in yield per harvested acre, 1967-1971 versus 2010-2014. Their findings were as follows: peanuts 2.4%; corn, 2.0%; rice, 1.5%; barley, 1.4%;soybeans, 1.4%; wheat, 1.2%; oats, .5%; sorghum, .3%. With all of the technological advances in equipment, weather forecasting, pest management, etc., none of these yields, which are considered quite good, was over 2.5%. Maybe our average annual expectations of our gatherings should be more realistic, especially since they involve people – different people living different lives in different situations all coming together in close spaces trying to impress and increase their expected “yield” of gathering.

It is a quote credited to several: “Patience with family is love. Patience with others is respect. Patience with self is confidence. Patience with God is faith.” Our life begins with family and how we spend it largely depends on family. Holidays are how we define ourselves and our creeds for living. I hope that however you celebrate, you do so with kindness and respect. When we show love and honor to others, we give it to ourselves. Responsible celebration involves more than wise imbibing of food and drink. We are the hosts and hostesses to every situation of our lives, especially the gatherings. The kindness we show to others may not be immediately reflected back to us but the character we build by doing so is a harvest worthy of the effort. We are not defined by our harvest but by the way we plow our lives. Whether it be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Winter Solstice celebrations, we all have much for which to be thankful. We all have much to for which to dream and be of good cheer. We all have the need to gather together in hope and love. No man is an island. No more stands alone. We need our gatherings. We need to prepare for the harvest.

My Proverb 28

We should worry less about the harvest and worry more about the plowing. If we live a life of sowing goodness and kindness, then we reap a clear conscience.

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