Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Saying Grace

This is adapted from a story I preached for my liturgy class' Worship Design Project with Dr. Heather Murray Elkins. The scripture we used was 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, about how the body of Christ is made up of many parts, but it is still one body. We followed the story with an invitation to the table for a love feast, or agape meal.

Le Capitol, the center of the city
I studied abroad in Toulouse, France, in 2007 with about ten other women, most from my college but a few from other schools. None of us were really close before studying abroad together, but there is something about being thrown into a foreign land where everyone speaks a foreign language that can bring you together.

First semester living abroad is always really difficult, especially for those of us who had never been so far from home before, and especially around the holidays. So the director of our program, a petite French woman who would take one kernel of popcorn just to taste it and then be done, decided to throw a Thanksgiving dinner for us. I was actually a little upset about this. We were not eating dinner until 8 pm, which is what you do in France, and had been a sore point with me since I got there. I mean, Thanksgiving dinner cannot start at 8. You start making pumpkin pies in the morning while watching all the really bad pop stars lip sync to their really bad pop songs in the parade, and then you take a nap and then everyone comes over ready to eat non-stop for the next several hours. That's what it's about right?

A sculpture in Centreville
But I tried to let it go and focus on making something special for the dinner. We had all split it up and offered to bring something. I was bringing peanut butter cookies. Not quite tradition, but pretty USAmerican I must say. I had to go to three grocery stores before I found anyplace that even sold peanut butter. And when I brought the cookies and put them down among the other food, I was surprised at just how wonderful of a meal we had put together. I had never had pumpkin pie that good--- it was made from real pumpkins! I've only ever had it from the can. I had also never had champagne at Thanksgiving before. Or saltine toffee. And even the food I had had at Thanksgiving before, the myriad of brilliant green vegetables, the cranberry sauce, the mashed potatoes, and, though I didn't eat this because I'm a vegetarian, the turkey--- all these things others had brought with them to the table made the night one of the yummiest Thanksgivings I had ever had (don't tell my parents; they are good cooks and I don't want to hurt their feelings).

But more than that it was one of the best Thanksgivings I had ever had. Here we were, women feeling very alone in this new place with a few Frenchies thrown in, none of us with anything really in common other than that we were far from home. Ollie, for instance, she and Alison brought the saltine toffee. Ollie was planning to go into corporate fashion for a while. I don't know how many of you actually know me, but my own sisters and mother who are much more fashion conscious than I am are embarrassed to be seen with me--- and yet Ollie never ever even talks about clothes with me. And Alison, who helped Ollie with the toffee, grew up in New York City, which is so far from the corn fields of Harford County Maryland where I grew up. And Kristin, who is graceful and a dancer--- she was there that night too. She and Priscilla brought the pie. I don't know if any of you have seen me dance, but uh, Kristin and I definitely have nothing in common there. And Priscilla, though we did enjoy sharing a good nutella crêpe together--- Priscilla is so sophisticated and has seen so much of the world whereas I am third generation (at least) Harford County and had never been that far away for that long alone before.

The list is long of the folks there that night and how different we all were,* the different places we were all coming from academically, geographically, culturally. But all of us came to the table together to eat and talk and just be together in the warmth, stuffing ourselves silly as you should on Thanksgiving.

But all of us came to the table together to eat and talk and just be together in the warmth, stuffing ourselves silly as you should on Thanksgiving.

As I left that night to walk back to my apartment, doggy bag in hand--- not a very French thing to do, but I could not pass up that food. I realized that because of the time difference we had been eating at the same time as my own family: 2 in the afternoon in Maryland, 8 at night in France.

In French, Thanksgiving Day is translated as le jour de grâce or le jour de l'action de grâce. The word used for thanksgiving here is grâce, which we would usually translate not as thanks but as grace. And this night for me was a very grace-filled night. We had come to the table, each bringing something of value to share together, each of us bringing the weight of our own homesickness, and of our own wonder at this new country. But there were also some who are kept from the table, who make us recognize our privilege and remind us that the table God intends for us to build is big enough for all of us.

And so we come to this table to share together. Hungry--- I hope--- but we come, bringing with us all that is ourselves to share, and hoping to create a table where there is always room for one more.

*I wish I could include an anecdote about each of the women who I was in France with, because they are amazing and continue to do such amazing things!

No comments:

Post a Comment