This Thanksgiving….Extend an Olive Branch


Close your eyes and picture Family Dinner. The napkins are linen, the children are scrubbed, steam rises from the green-bean casserole, and even the dog listens intently to what is being said. This is where the tribe comes to transmit wisdom, embed expectations, confess, conspire, forgive, repair. The idealized version is as close to a regular worship service, with its litanies and lessons and blessings, as a family gets outside a sanctuary.

In modern times, especially in America, we have all but lost the “religious” perspective of sharing meals together. We’ve come to look at eating together merely in its social and physical context. That is, the only purposes we see are to fill our bellies, satisfy our taste buds and enjoy a social gathering where we joke and laugh and talk about current events, business or the weather. Many have come to think of meals as merely an earthly activity with no spiritual significance.

“If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube. A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”

But, while it is true that we have nearly lost the Religious understanding of fellowship meals in our modern society, there is one fellowship meal that many of us have regularly participated in throughout most of our lives, i.e. the family dinner.

That ideal runs so strong and so deep in our culture and psyche that when experts talk about the value of family dinners, they may leave aside the clutter of contradictions.  But, just because we eat together does not mean we eat right: Domino’s alone delivers a million pizzas on an average day.  And, just because we are sitting together doesn’t mean we have anything to say.

Traditionally in America, the evening dinner hour is a time for the whole family to gather around the table together and share a meal (sadly even this is going by the wayside). But it is more than a meal. It’s not simply about the food. It is about sharing our lives together each day. The meal provides an opportunity for fellowship. After everyone is scattered about throughout the day, we come back together around the table to reconnect, and in a sense, you might say, to celebrate our relationship. And, during Thanksgiving we do the same but in a bigger way.

Experts everywhere agree: Sharing meals helps cement family relationships, no matter how you define “family.”

“Sitting down to a meal together draws a line around us,” says Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals. “It encloses us and, for a brief time, strengthens the bonds that connect us with other members of our self-defined clan, shutting out the rest of the world.”

In study after study, the beneficial impact of family mealtime has been demonstrated for children of all ages. Better grades, healthier eating habits, closer relationships to parents and siblings, ability to resist negative peer pressure, resilience in the face of life’s problems — all these are outcomes of simply sharing dinner on a regular basis.

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the people responsible for the American Thanksgiving tradition. Contrary to popular opinion, the Pilgrims didn’t wear buckles on their shoes or hats. They weren’t teetotalers, either. They smoked tobacco and drank beer. And, most importantly, their first harvest festival and subsequent “thanksgivings” weren’t held to thank the local natives for saving their lives.

Yet, there is no way to divorce the spiritual from the celebration of Thanksgiving – at least not the way the Pilgrims envisioned it, a tradition dating back to the ancient Hebrews and their feasts of Succoth and Passover.

The Pilgrims came to America for one reason – to form a separate community in which they could worship God as they saw fit. They had fled England because King James I was persecuting those who did not recognize the Church of England’s absolute civil and spiritual authority.

And that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about. It wasn’t just an economic system that allowed the Pilgrims to prosper. It was their devotion to God and His laws. The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows. Their Thanksgiving tradition was established to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace.

The famous Muslim mystic and poet, Jalâluddîn Rûmî, described the state of “one who is addicted to (the spiritual state of) thanksgiving” [shukr-bâra]. For such a one, “Thanksgiving for the benefit is sweeter than the benefit” itself. “Thanksgiving is the soul of the benefit” and the benefit is superficial and unimportant. The “benefit of thanksgiving”is the true benefit, not the material or circumstantial benefit, because thanksgiving brings us to nearness to the Divine Beloved.

Rûmî taught that there is a distinction between patience and thanksgiving. The spiritual state of patience still involves duality between man’s will and the Divine Will. But the spiritual state of thanksgiving is expressive of the state of union, in which man is filled with immeasurable Divine Kindness.

The recognition of the spiritual basis of “thanksgiving” has many and deep implications. It means that separation and isolation of human beings is impossible as we are all knit together as children of one God; consequently, the same life throbs in every human heart. It implies that behind all the outer differences is a basic unity.

One should, therefore, look upon all human beings with equality, whether s/he belongs to this or that nation or this or that religion. All of us are one in truth and love, one human family. Indeed, it is only on the recognition of the spiritual unity of life and brotherhood of human beings that the safety of the world depends.

Gratitude leads to mutual reverence, recognition and cooperation.

Thanksgiving enhances the quality of the inner life. It enables the mind to rest firmly in God. Our life, health, friends, society, the food we eat, and our very body with its fingers, muscles, sense and motor organs are gifts, which we take for granted frequently. Gratitude is a virtue and a philosophy of life.  It harmonizes the body and its actions with the inner spirit. Periodic thanksgiving such as the observance of the Thanksgiving Day is only a reminder that we should practice it continuously in our hearts among the great religions of the world and work as a fit instrument for world peace.

Thanks to the advances of modern means of transport and communication, every part of the world is becoming increasingly multi-cultural and multi religious. In the emerging global culture, the world needs a fresh approach toward the welfare of the humankind as a whole. The new approach should be on the basis of thankfulness linking the human community through many households of faith.

“There is a ’secret to happiness, and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person.”

[Scripture] is filled with expressions of gratitude. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.”.

Why? Because God needs our gratitude? No: because we need it. Learning to be thankful, whether to God or to other people, is the best vaccination against taking good fortune for granted.

Philosophy is more than what we think; philosophy is how we think.

Do not think as the world would have you think; think as God wants you to think. A right philosophy is one that is overflowing with thankfulness and shines so brightly that others can see clearly how an attitude of gratitude glorifies God.

Thank God for dirty dishes,

They have a tale to tell.

While other folks go hungry,

We’re eating very well.

With home and health and happiness

We should not want to fuss.

For by this stack of evidence,

God is very good to us.

It is the dirty dishes of life that can pull our philosophy into vain thoughts or that can assist us in seeing what is truly important.

Many global issues require leveraging diverse expertise and getting the right people to the table.  This is especially true in the area of global peace.

The last 100 years have drastically changed Jews and Arabs perceptions of one another, and what many remember now centers on a legacy of war, occupation, displacement, and bloodshed. This is perhaps the worst form of cultural erosion.

What we remember is determined by what we have become accustomed to believe and think.  Memories are never simply records of the past, but are interpretative reconstructions that bear the imprint of local narrative conventions, cultural assumptions, discursive formations and practices, and social contexts of recall and commemoration.”

Using the rich, shared history between Arabs and Jews in historical Palestine, coupled with critical thinking and analysis, this thesis attempts to answer the question, “How do we renew the tradition of Arab-Jewish cooperative coexistence in Israel/Palestine today?” Memory becomes our first guidepost.

The theme of “thanksgiving” constitutes a common element in the religions of humankind. We need to make this precious element central to our lives. Where the roots of spirituality are watered by the spirit of “Thanksgiving”, all cultures and religions become dynamic, creative, altruistic and counteract the evils of greed, and selfishness in society. The spiritual unity of “thanksgiving” can establish mutual and harmonious relations.

This Thanksgiving, still in the face of this loss, chronic lack of water, and destruction of their homes, Palestinians remain dedicated to olive trees as their livelihood, their rootedness in the land and their legacy.

Many Israelis and Palestinians will work side by side to harvest olives all over the West Bank in the next weeks. This activity is one of the clear expressions of “extending the olive branch”  between members of these two communities who truly seek a way of peace and a non-violent way of resolving historic conflicts.

Resting in the shade of an olive tree, they enjoy an afternoon meal of pita bread, zatar (spice mixture), and lebane (yogurt cheese). Talk for hours about our people, our histories, and ourselves. They cook together, clean together, and plan their days together. Here there are, a group of Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, in the middle of a war zone, living together around the clock in the West Bank village of Mas’ha. What brings them together is a vision for peace, justice, and coexistence, and they manage to create a microcosm of those very things in a makeshift “peace camp” organized by the villagers.

This Thanksgiving meal, say a silent prayer for peace.  Offer the pressings of your heart as a commitment to work for reconciliation in your life, for non-violent communication, for hope for transformation and justice between peoples of faith, in the land where olives grow and where dreams for peace still take root.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

Thanks for reading. Please pass this on to someone who means something to you.

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About julia29

Hi. My name is Julia El-Haj. I am a Hall of Fame Athlete, an MBA, Professional Certified Marketer, Certified Youth Fitness Trainer, a Specialist in Sports Nutrition and a licensed Real Estate agent. I gave up my "seat at the table" to be home with my 3 children because that's where I was needed most. I blog about everything with Wellness in mind.
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