A little over a month ago, I had the privilege of being part of a team which hosted a Pay-What-You-Can Community Feast in Pittsboro. It was truly a community effort where nearly 250 of our closest friends gathered to share good food, meet neighbors, and celebrate community under a beautiful fall sunset with 36 6-foot tables placed end-to-end. The weather was perfect. Everyone had a place at the table. The food was mouth-watering. It reminded me just how uncommon the act of feasting is — and how radical it can be in our world.
I tell folks often, “Jesus did his best work around tables.” This is why: in a world marked by partisanship and polarization, tables diffuse power and create space for deep connection. When we constantly receive messages of how this world is ours for the taking, there’s something powerful about the act of receiving a meal and ensuring that everyone has enough. And when we feel like we must go it alone, and it’s us against the world, a feast reminds us that we need one another and our lives are caught up together.
This is why each Sunday, many churches, ours included, celebrate a feast together as the central act of worship — the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving!). We do it in part because belonging, abundance, and mutuality are central to our faith and central to who we know Jesus to be.
As you gather this week, consider transforming your Thanksgiving meal into a true feast. As you do so, here are four tips for feasting:
First, offer a brief moment of blessing or gratitude. In beginning your feast in this way, your attention moves beyond yourself to God and one another. You name the reality that a good meal is a gift. It’s a recognition of our dependence on the creator and the abundance we share from the One who is the generous giver of every good and perfect gift. With a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old running around my house, we’ve become accustomed to “Superman prayer” and the “Johnny Appleseed prayer.” But for you, this moment could also be as simple as taking turns to share what you’re grateful for, reciting a brief prayer together, or offering a toast. I’m partial to this toast from the Celtic tradition: “Here is food, we are hungry. Here is drink, we are thirsty. Here are friends, we are happy. Here is God, we are blessed.”
Second, turn off your phone, and keep it away from the table. This allows you to show up and be present. It limits distractions and keeps your attention on the food and company. You don’t need to Instagram your plate quite yet. The calls and texts can wait a little while. I’ve even been a part of gatherings with a common basket for everyone’s phones to help maintain accountability. (Your teenagers will love it!) As Simone Weil puts it, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
Third, be curious, and ask good questions. Take some time to revel in the gift of those who gather with you. Good questions open us up, invite us into new stories, and help us find parallels and intersections in the lives of another. Once you’re done with small talk, you might ask for words of wisdom long-carried. Or maybe you ask, “What’s something you know a lot about?” Inquire whether anyone has outgrown any previously held beliefs — and how. Then, most importantly, listen with generosity, curiosity, and love.
Finally, take it slow. So much of our lives are hurried and frenetic, fast-paced and full. Many of us grab meals on the go and find it difficult to get everyone around the table. And even when we do, we barely fit it in before we’re off to the next thing. That’s what makes a feast counter-cultural. If ever there was a time to slow down and linger, let it be here. Savor the mashed potatoes and stuffing. Notice the varied colors and flavors that fill your table. Cherish the conversations. Celebrate the wonder and mystery of the company that gathers with you. You have nowhere else to be but where you are.
Lean in, give thanks, and enjoy the feast.
Brent Levy is the pastor of The Local Church in Pittsboro.