Community as an antidote to Thanksgiving loneliness

Today, we’re launching what will probably become a new tradition at our church, a parish Thanksgiving Day potluck. We’re cooking turkey and ham in our church kitchen, and those who wish to celebrate the holiday in the parish hall are bringing their favorite side dishes to share. When I suggested a few weeks ago that we try this, I thought maybe a dozen or so folks would show up. I was amazed when nearly 100 people RSVP’d. These are not poverty-stricken folks who can’t afford a meal. Most of them are simply without family or intimate friends nearby and now, they can be with their parish family this Thanksgiving Day.

This is a reminder that one important mission we have as people of faith is to battle the loneliness that pervades our society. Rabbi Eric Yoffie writes that “loneliness destroys us in the same way that bullets and poverty destroy us. It eats away at our spiritual wellbeing. It eviscerates our sense of wholeness.” Writing at Huffington Post this week, he says:

In fact, loneliness kills. “O chevruta, o mituta,” it says in the Talmud (Taanit 23a): Either companionship or death. And the other great religious traditions agree.

No human being is capable of living an atomized life. We live by community; otherwise, we live badly, or not at all.

But now the puzzle: Americans seem to be choosing to condemn themselves to the hell of loneliness. As David Brooks recently pointed out in the New York Times, the number of Americans who are living alone has risen from 9 percent in 1950 to 28 percent today. This latter number is shocking; that so many choose a solitary life is seemingly contrary to experience, instinct and good sense.

He goes on:

What does this have to do with religion,? Quite a bit, actually, and on Thanksgiving we all sense it. Even the most secular families are inclined to say some kind of a Thanksgiving prayer, acknowledging the holiness of our collective effort to hold each other up and provide for each other in times of need.

Religion at its best affirms the ties of family and community, investing family celebrations with meaning and structuring family life with ritual and rules of conduct. Communities can exist without religion and God; but the most satisfying communities are those that draw on the traditions and ceremonies that religion provide. And religion at its best is not about bricks, budgets, or numbers, but about fostering sacred community among vulnerable human beings who yearn for connection.

Thanksgiving has a special hold on us, and we should rejoice in its blessings. And we should remember what it teaches us: our deep and profound need for intimacy and belonging.

Read his full essay at May we all find and provide the life-giving comfort of community and fellowship this Thanksgiving Day, and throughout the holiday season.

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