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How Big Is the Table?

I write this blog the week before Thanksgiving. There is absolutely no missing how important this holiday is to consumers in the USA. Television ads are now in full mode of shopping because, after all, Christmas is coming. Shop! Shop! Shop! Two weeks ago, a local store was already pushing Thanksgiving décor out of the way so Christmas trees, Santa Claus figurines, and shelves filled with bows and glitter could fill the spaces.

But what about Thanksgiving? What about the table?

I am wondering if Thanksgiving has gotten a bit complicated. Aside from the looming Christmas push by cultural pressures, this late November holiday has gotten more muted.

The frightful, violent, and legal way that Indigenous people have been treated in our country is beyond sad. It is a story that many of us did not know—or chose to ignore. Our textbooks only told stories of a “lovely” Thanksgiving feast with Puritans and “Indians” eating together in peace. There may well have been such an occasion but, as we all know, that was not the way relationships, policies and subsequent actions stayed. Treaties were broken, promises were ignored, and Native Americans were viewed as sub-human and disposable. What happened to the feasting tables?

Still, my vision of healthy relationships often revolves around eating together. Once, I cooked for my new husband as he celebrated a birthday just two weeks after our wedding. In my joy, I tried a new recipe and the birthday cake broke into pieces as the frosting slid off the top and landed in a messy heap. We survived (now 50 years) and we have shared thousands of meals together and even a few cooking disasters.

We also purchased a heavy, oak, “harvest” table that we have dragged around the country but has also been the site of many meals with guests, families, children, relatives, and new neighbors. That table will go with us to our retirement home. I cannot imagine a home without a dining table (expandable)! That table is a symbol of hospitality, nourishment, conversation, and relationships.

I am imagining that folks who suffer from mental illness may not get invited to many tables. Or, maybe, they were not fed well or treated well in the past. I am thankful, especially this year, that Prairie View is a place to learn about tables, about new patterns of behavior, about people who are friends and healers. May we all expand our tables and, in turn, find hope and love.

(Rev. Dorothy Nickel Friesen is a retired Mennonite pastor and denominational minister who served on the Prairie View Board.  She lives in Newton, KS.)