It is quiet this early Thanksgiving morning here in central South Carolina, the sun rising above the trees outside my east-facing window immediately to my left, and yes, Khouria Susan, it's a little chilly. The turkey is cooking, and Susan is resting. Junior was unable to come home from Chicago and my brother-in-law and his family were also unable to come down from Virginia. However, our older daughter will join us a bit later, so Thanksgiving this year will be small, just the three of us.
As I have done so many times at quiet holiday moments, I am wandering a bit through old memories, memories of Thanksgivings past, celebrations in my native Northeast Montana, in Milwaukee during my largely misspent college career, memories of other times and other places.
One such memory, from the Marquette/Milwaukee years, involves the microwaving of a turkey at a favorite Wells Street watering hole, Jim Hegarty’s Irish Pub. After an hour or two and many beers later, we then took it home, to our dilapidated college student ghetto flat, and put it in the oven for a while. In the end, that was one tough, undercooked bird. A great memory, but a lousy meal. Other memories, from childhood, have to do with inviting neighbors, three retired bachelor farmers (only one of whom was Norwegian), to share our family table. That made six: mom, dad, yours truly, and Ray, John, and Herman. There was snow on the ground and it was more than “a little chilly”, but that was always the case at Thanksgiving, fifteen miles south of the Canadian border, with nothing but a couple of barbed wire fences between us and the North Pole, a mere 2,500 miles away.
Another set of memories, sparked by Deacon Greg Kandra, are not related specifically to the holiday of Thanksgiving. Deacon Greg has posted, here, a clip from “Godspell”, a production made possible by the Jesus Revolution of the early 1970’s, the latter a phenomenon that shaped my life profoundly, as did the related neo-Pentecostalism of Charismatic Renewal. What is fascinating to me is the extent to which these movements continue to impact American Christianity up until this moment, from the upheavals within Anglicanism to the resurgence of Eastern Orthodoxy to the ever-shifting foci within Roman Catholicism to the founding of the Charismatic Episcopal Church and similar Independent Catholic bodies as well as the emergence of Churches such as the ACCA.
One specific memory that I have in this regard concerns a prayer group/Bible study hosted by a Roman Catholic couple in my hometown, Scobey “Lake Wobegone” Montana. They had been introduced to charismatic renewal by way of the Cursillo movement. I was 14 or 15 at the time, and this prayer group included, at various times, Methodists, Lutherans, members of the Assemblies of God and even, from time to time, my own father, an Evangelical Wesleyan, who consistently cast a decidedly jaundiced eye at mainstream denominations, especially the Roman Catholic Church. On this particular evening, I do not recall who was present, except for the host couple; however, at some point, in walked a Roman Catholic priest, a native of the area, and his father. I had never encountered a priest so closely before. He said little but, as I recall, prayed profoundly. Something stirred within me: a calling. I did not know how or where this calling would be played out, but somehow, at a very deep level that was only semi-conscious, I knew. I was called: this Charismatic, Evangelical Jesus Freak nerd, a son of the radical Reformation if there ever was one, was being called to the sacerdotal priesthood.
Years later, my colleague, Andreas Mar Cassian, and I were discussing our respective youths, his in East Tennessee, mine in NE Montana. He was raised Baptist. Avva Andreas asked me, “What did you want to be when you were 14?” “A priest,” I replied. “Me too,” he said.
Of course, it all seems so much more clear-cut in retrospect. However, on that Winter night, in an aging mobile home in NE Montana, a seed was most definitely planted.
And there were other seeds: having a pastor introduce me to Ignatius of Antioch from the pulpit of the Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation which was my primary church home as a child and teenager; attending a Latin wedding Mass; and, at age 7, encountering the witness of a large, devout Roman Catholic family, especially through its sons who were close to me in age and who, even though very young themselves, were willing and quite able to explain to me the basics of the Apostolic Faith in its Roman Catholic iteration, including, as I vividly recall, the three types of baptism: water, desire, and blood. I have long since lost touch with them, Brian, Johnny, and Michael, but I pray for them regularly, and I hope they have perservered in their faith.
For all of this, and for so much more, especially for my family, friends both past and present, and for my Church, I give thanks this day. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may God remember us all in the Kingdom of Heaven.