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Religion Column – Let us keep the feast

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

It seems particularly appropriate to talk about food at this time of the year. Next Thursday being Thanksgiving Day, we are ramping up to the rituals of times past; although the numbers in attendance at the groaning table may be a bit lower than before. Enough ink has already been spilt advising the masses on what constitutes a proper diet, and for us to behave ourselves as we dive headlong into the delicacies of the day.

You shall not find such advisements here. Rather, let us wallow together in all of the sauces, sugars and carbohydrates which comprise the average 7,000 calorie repast and the resultant melatonin coma which soon follows on the couch. Such a day!

Thanksgiving Day is one of many traditions. Yet, as we all age, the traditions morph a bit. Grandpa and Memaw become unable to hold the annual fest, as age precludes the heady chore. Others take over. Families may argue, feelings are hurt, distance may come into play, but the annual day is still celebrated and memories stirred.

After all, this celebration is all about reaping the harvest and giving thanks for the bounty it provides. While there may currently be a bit less toilet paper on the shelves, the quantities, quality and choices have never been greater. Our society enjoys, if not underappreciates, the ease of obtaining the necessities, without the need for braving the wilds of not so long ago. Thawing of the bird, opening a few cans, stirring the gumbo and making a treasured recipe are all an integral part of the hallowed tradition.

Nothing could be more essential to this scene than bread; for it has been called the “staff of life.” For millennia, it has remained the same essential product of water, leaven, flour and salt. There are few of us who cannot smile as the aroma of baking bread wafts under our noses. When coupled with Thanksgiving Day, it often may bring up fond memories of days past; and reduce our proclivity for confrontation, anger and dissent. It may even cause us to pause and think about who, and what we are.

However, anyone who has attempted to make bread, will readily acknowledge their failures in the attempt. Too much of this, or that, may result in a less than prefect loaf. An oven, set too high, or too low; for too long, or not long enough, portends disaster.

It is a fine art, this breadmaking, and successful recipes are often treasured.

The most critical part, of any breadmaking, is the leavening agent used to bring the bread to the necessary height. Typically, the baker will use precise amounts of yeast, mixed with exacting amounts of tempered water and specific flours to make a leavening sponge. Yeast is allowed to grow and is then added to the balance of the recipe. Without this leaven, there would be no bread.

Bread is often mentioned in the Holy Bible. We hear about Manna from Heaven and the feeding of the five-thousand with the barley loaves. Leaven was an integral part of Christ Jesus’ time, as it is now. In Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he states, “Your glorying is not good. You know that a little leaven, leavens the whole lump, and you are to be unleavened. Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven…but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

These directions, to the Church at Corinth, underscore a truth of any society. We, as “lumps,” may be leavened by the many attractions and allures of our world. This expectation, from Saint Paul, underscores the peril of leavening ourselves with things that are not of God; expressed differently: “evil.”

Our time together on this upcoming Thursday, whether it be actual, or remotely accomplished, is a precious thing. As we gather, let us take a moment and offer our thanks to our Creator for his generosity and also take a moment to reflect upon what constitutes our individual leaven.

May God’s blessings be with you on the special day, and each day.