Spirit Alive: Thanksgiving 2018-- When a Feast Becomes a Practice


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.

November 20, 2018

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

What the Sikhs Taught Me About Sharing a Meal

"Continuing the practice introduced by the Gurus, every gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) provides food and often shelter to all visitors regardless of their religious belief, race, gender, social status, or any other distinction. Langar (the simple Sikh meal that is shared with others) is served after every congregational event....In the Sikh religion, equality of all people is emphasized. The Langar institution represents 'sharing' and not 'charity.'"

Ranbir Singh Sandhu

I recently returned home after attending my second Parliament of the World's Religion. I first attended this event in 2009, when the Parliament was in Melbourne, Australia. This time it was held in Toronto, Canada. For seven days, approximately 7,000 people came together for this event, coming from 80 countries and 220 different religious/spiritual backgrounds.

The theme of our time together was "The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change." The plenary sessions focused on Indigenous Peoples...Women's Dignity...Climate Change and Action...Justice, and Countering War, Hate and Violence....and The Next Generation. 

It was a remarkable experience, involving over 500 different workshops and including presentations from literally hundreds of individuals. We started each day at 9AM and went until 10PM at night. There was sacred music, panel discussions, worship experiences, an extraordinary quilt display, films, presentations, and exhibits.

And there was Langar, the Sikh meal...which was offered each day at the Parliament to hundreds of people for free. By the end of the week some 300 volunteers from the Toronto Sikh community served between 7,000 and 10,000 meals to the participants of the Parliament. But...in addition, while the Parliament was taking place, the various guardwaras (congregations) in Toronto also maintained their own local weekly meals as well in their communities. Clearly, this is an essential element of the Sikh religious practice and is taken very seriously as a part of their faith.

During the Parliament, I participated in one of the meals, taking off my shoes, having my head wrapped in an orange scarf, and washing my hands...before receiving a plate a food consisting of chappaties, rice, lentils, and water. Then I made my way to where everyone was sitting on the floor to eat on mats that had been set out for all the guests.

Langar is a deeply embedded part of the Sikh faith that is not only about sharing a meal with others, but also about removing the distinctions related to class or caste by having everyone receive the same meal and sit on the floor together as equals. The experience taught me a great deal about the values of this religious tradition, where the belief is that eating meals is a right for everyone. It also made me think about my own faith in a new way...and has me thinking about what spirit we could being to our national holiday of Thanksgiving as we prepare to gather around our various family tables in the coming week.

You see...some Sikh communities serve thousands of meals annually on a regular basis, and this practice is done worldwide through Sikh communities. So...after the Tsunamis, there were Sikh Langar meals served. After the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Florida, there were Langar meals served. In fact, around the world Langars are served as Sikhs gravitate to these areas in order to be of service and assistance by providing meals in places dealing with crisis and trauma.

As Christians, we have our own experience of what it means to share a meal with others. For us, Holy Communion is our way of remembering that Jesus is among us whenever we gather together in his name. And it represents the kind of spirit that we want to create among ourselves as we shape our own lives and behaviors in the image of Christ.

Langar is the Sikhs way of reminding themselves that central to their faith is the principle of equality and the desire to honor all people as equals...and that these values are expressed at their "open kitchen," which takes place whenever they gather to worship. All are welcome and served as equals through this simple meal.

In our United Methodist congregations, we are all familiar with coffee hours, and in some churches we share congregational meals as a regular part of the weekly worship experience, especially in communities of color where potlucks of one kind or another are a part of Sunday morning gatherings. 

So as we come together with our families and friends for Thanksgiving this week to remember our blessings and share our gratitude, let us be mindful of what the Sikhs can teach us about not overlooking those who are often invisible to us and are separated from us by class, condition, or life circumstance.

The Sikh practice of Langar challenges and teaches us to examine our own world more closely... and to look into our hearts to consider what we can do to address the needs of others regarding food insecurity...and in the process break down the divisions that exist among us as a result of class or station in life. This is not a matter of doing acts of "charity, but it is about developing the principle of "sharing" within our community life. It is about creating concrete ways to affirm the ethic of community, inclusiveness, and oneness with others that binds us together as brothers and sisters made in the image of God.

The experience of the Parliament of the World's Religions taught me a lot about "sharing" one's religious practices and how to be open to understanding life from different vantage points. It was also a time of remarkable blessing, as thousands of us came together to share our diverse experiences of faith and learn how to connect in deep and powerful ways, while expressing what it means to be a spiritually grounded human being. 


Happy Thanksgiving...may the spirit of our gatherings this week truly bring us closer to one another in ways that lead to transformation and wholeness...for that is a blessing truly worth celebrating!





Let us walk in the light of God's love,


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.


Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org