Truth, Generosity, & Gratitude

In a longer piece at Feminism and Religion last year, Carol Christ shared this story about celebrating Thanksgiving at her home in Greece:

Before we shared the meal, my friends, Greek, Australian, and British, asked me to explain what Thanksgiving is.  Here is what I said:

When we were young, we learned in school that after the British who were called Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, they were starving the first winter because they did not know the new land and its foods. The Indians shared the American foods–including turkeys, corn, corn bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberries–with the Pilgrims, and this was the first Thanksgiving.

What we were not told was that the white immigrants brought diseases that killed many of the Indians and that they later fought the remaining Indians for land and drove them onto reservations.

“The story of the Indians sharing with the Pilgrims is probably true,” I added, “because the Indians came from a gift-giving culture in which those who had shared with those who did not.

“Thanksgiving is also a harvest festival that celebrates the end of the harvest when ‘all is safely gathered in, ‘ere the winter storms begin.’  So today we bless the Source of Life, and the circle of birth, death, and regeneration.

“But for me,” I concluded, “Thanksgiving is most of all a celebration of memories of family gatherings at my grandmother’s. This year, you are my family.”

While preparing the feast that we shared, I understood even more clearly than before, that the Thanksgiving I create is first for the ancestors, and second for my friends.  Knowing that makes Thanksgiving twice meaningful.

I am still thinking about the generosity of the Indians, and the lack of generosity of many founding fathers and mothers.  My grandmother’s Searing ancestors were among the first non-natives to settle in Hempstead, Long Island, Saratoga Springs, New York, and Lyons, Michigan.   The new American immigrants all too often took without giving back and then took some more.  This also is my heritage.  Telling the truth is only a beginning.  What would be required of us if we pledged ourselves to repair the web?

Christ invites us to tell the truth and take action.  Give back.  Inhabit the spirit of generosity and express gratitude to the Source of Life whatever you may call it.  May your thanksgiving be genuine and filled with life.

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.