The Village Feast
In time out of mind, every meal was cause for celebration. People who returned to their hut, cave or cliff dwelling with food were hailed as conquering heroes, and rightly so. Our early history was a tough time to be alive, or rather, to stay that way. Food and water was a brief respite from what must have been a nearly constant anxiety over what might happen next. So time was taken for gratitude.
Cut to the 21st Century… It’s a lot easier for us now, but we’ve traded something away for the relative security we enjoy. “Enjoy” isn’t even the right word for it anymore. We cram breakfast sandwiches into our faces on the way to work, eat frozen dinners in front of the t.v. and mindlessly cruise the refrigerator at midnight. Food isn’t a celebration, it’s a chore, or a temporary cure for an equally temporary boredom.
Part of what returns to us when we gather and plan for our food is a sense of pride, certainly, but it’s also a return to heartfelt gratitude and excitement over our finds. I don’t know about you, but I spend the trip home from a glean imagining all the cool stuff I’m going to do with my share of it, and how my little family will celebrate with me and make yummy noises. It’s a bit of a holiday, and I bet you have similar experiences when you return home with your treasures.
The food we gather is only half the story. The rituals that surround this thing we do allow us to experience a bit of the Village Feast, the Harvest Celebration. It’s the first and best way we humans came together and formed a community. Breaking bread with each other creates and strengthens the bonds of a community, and we get to experience that in small doses as we divide our shares, trade recipes and complain about our aching backs. It’s one of the most human experiences I can think of.
When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, one of my favorite teachers told me a story about the difference between Heaven and Hell. He said that the places were exactly the same; an infinite table spread with all the finest, most delicious food you could ever imagine, food that would never spoil or lose its flavor. It was a divine bounty in the clouds, where you could, if you wished, eat chocolate forever. The most unusual part of both banquets, though, were the spoons attached to everyone’s hands. While these spoons were lovely, ornate and covered in gold, they were quite long; too long, in fact, for anyone to actually be able to serve any of the food before them, or to bring a bite to their lips. My teacher told me sadly that it would break my heart to see those poor people in Hell, eternally starving before a bountiful harvest.
As I was meant to, I asked my teacher why, if everything was exactly the same in Hell as in Heaven, I should be interested in going either place. He smiled and leaned closer to me, as people do when sharing a wonderful secret.
“Because in Heaven,” he said, “The people are feeding each other.”
I think of that story whenever we glean and share what we make with friends and neighbors. I’m not a religious person, but I really believe in the deeper meaning of that story. We create something when we share in the village harvest.
We’re creating Heaven.