What Your Best-Ever Feast of Tabernacles Is Lacking

This post is for current “Church of God” members preparing to attend the Feast of Tabernacles, a religious festival I observed for close to 30 years before I became Catholic.

Every COG sermon I’ve heard about how to have the best-ever Feast of Tabernacles offers the same advice: commit to serving others.

But even if every attendant were to sign up for a volunteer position (cutting back on their COG’s expenses), at some point you will still hear a sermon or sermonette about how to combat “post-feast letdown.”

Post-feast letdown

After a week of joining others in celebrating the future thousand-year earthly reign of God’s Kingdom—the “World Tomorrow”—the mere thought of going “back into the world” is a downer.

Recently, an active COG member also confided to me that he always looks forward to the feast, enjoys it, but then leaves on an “empty tank,” feeling as if he had just squandered another opportunity for spiritual growth.

This is not unusual.

The problem

Despite what you’re led to believe, usually it’s not that the feast is so spiritual that the contrast of going back into the world is a letdown. The truth is that, in many cases, “the feast” is indistinguishable from a feel-good convention, with its lineup of speakers, its organizational rah-rah cheerleading, its seminars (on all manner of topics), its entertainment, its stage bands, its fine foods, and its social activities.

What you actually experience is a natural letdown from a manufactured high.

A “good feast,” you believe, is one in which you make a ton of new friends and enjoy a full activity schedule. It might include skating, a family dance, pizza parties, go-karts, cookouts, singles dinners, couples dinners, ministers dinners, youth day, a movie night, raffles, site-seeing tours, beach volleyball parties, and other opportunities for fun and fellowship.

But the reality for many is that the feast is a very un-spiritual time, despite all their self-congratulatory talk about how blessed they are to be “called” to understand and keep “God’s feasts.” It’s a fun convention that allows people who were directly or indirectly affected by the Armstrongs to catch up with each other.

In short, you believe a good feast is a fun feast, a full feast—which makes for a fast, fatiguing feast.

The solution

Be honest: How many of you pray at the feast? I don’t mean just bowing your head after announcements while a deacon asks God through a microphone to “inspire the speaking and the hearing.” I mean deep, silent, personal, meditative prayer to get in tune with God’s will for your life.

I hope your experience is different, but when I attended COG FOTs, it never occurred to me to pray with any depth. Instead, after a full day of fun and noisy activity, I’d offer up a late check-in prayer at night as I drifted to sleep.

Years after my separation from COG culture, however, I began making “silent retreats.” They usually take place over a long weekend (maybe three days) with other men who come for the same purpose.

At the peaceful, scenic retreat house, we are all provided our own simple living quarters (no TVs, no telephones, no Blutetooth speakers, no wet bars).

We wake up early and spend each day not bombarded with sound system checks or engaged in chit-chat, but in complete silence. (Sometimes we all forget what that sounds like.) Usually there are a few scheduled spiritual talks given by the retreat master, offering reflections on Christian teaching. Attendance at the talks is not compulsory, but is usually helpful. If tired, naps are encouraged. The rest of the day is reserved for private prayer and meditation in solitude.

This can take the form of praying during an outdoor walk by oneself. It could be going to the library to prayerfully read the Scriptures, or to read books about the lives of heroic Christians who lived before us. It could seeing Jesus eye to eye in prayer, examining our own life in light of the gospel.

We’re called to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect — how do we measure up? Where have we made the most progress, and where have we made the least? What’s our game plan?

We must honestly assess where we stand, realizing full well that God is never angry with our failures, but is always calling us deeper into the life of Christ, wooing us to come closer to him. While he is not indifferent to sin, he is patient with us. He is doing a work in us, and we have to let him. We remember the love with which he searches for and embraces his prodigal children.

The difference

It took no time at all to see how my annual silent retreats compared to the annual Feast of Tabernacles I grew up with.

With FOTs, time flew because I was having fun, and I hated going home because that was not as fun. I’d have to wait another year to hang out with my new friends at the pool party or arcade. It was a downer. Back to the daily grind, back to the salt mine.

But my silent retreats—I hardly mind when they’re over, because I’m rejuvenated. Having put aside for a time the daily cares of the world in order to refocus my spiritual life, I actually look forward to going home and living a rededicated Christian life. Refreshed rather than run down, I’m up for the challenge. I feel better equipped to live out my calling in Jesus.

My advice to feastgoers

My purpose here is not to dissuade you from observing the holy days of Leviticus. That can wait for another post. Instead, for now I encourage you to observe the fall feast with spiritual intensity, and not as if it were “God’s Vacation Plan.”

Decide your priority ahead of time. Refuse the pizza parties, the volleyball games, the socials, the family fun shows, the singalongs—all the noisy distractions. “Just say no.”

In a word, you must get away and pray. Be still in your soul. Listen to the still, small voice of God in your heart, because prayer is never a one-way conversation.

You already took more than a week off from work and school, so use that time wisely. Take walks on the beach by yourself, accompanied only by the seagulls. As massive and powerful as the ocean is, teeming with life, see it as a metaphor for God’s power and might. As one created out of nothing, meditate on your life’s direction and purpose. Slow down to read and ponder the Scriptures—not just Leviticus 23, but also the Gospels, which reveal how Jesus fulfills all that the Scriptures foretold through its historical shadows and figures. He should be at the heart of every prayer.

It’s not going on a fall vacation that God honors, but a humble and contrite heart.

If you commit to seeking God’s face and his will for your life, taking time to silence the noise of distraction that surrounds you, and being persistent in prayer, then who am I to judge you? I have complete faith that he will lead your next steps.

But it will be up to you to follow.

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