Christians get that. Many gather around a table every time we worship. The service is often called “Eucharist,” which simply means “thanksgiving.” (Capital T “Thanksgiving” itself means lavish meals to North Americans.)
Small groups often share meals to build community. Even “low church” traditions appreciate potlucks. One friend used to say, “If you can read the gospels without getting hungry, you’re not paying attention.” Eating together is central to faith and to life. My wife works in a church-based clinic that ministers to homeless, marginal street folks. Her nursing practitioner expertise is vital there, but so is the fact that the church feeds folks several times a week. As essayist Adam Gopnik contends in his most recent book, “the table comes first.”
I visited an organic farming community, Menno Village in Hokkaido Japan, as part of my research for Living into Focus. They think carefully about the kind of food they grow and how they grow it. They also live what they profess. Ray, one community member, built a large wooden table for the dining room. Three times a day, community members and visitors gather around it and dig in with chopsticks, enjoying food that Aki and her mother prepared, food raised a few hundred feet away on their farm. As I remember other travels– visiting relatives in the Netherlands, peasants in the mountains of Haiti, orthodox Christians in Syria, Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago in Spain – more than anything I remember eating together.
And the same is true of family life. I look back fondly on meals that I ate as a child with my sister and parents. It was one of the few times we four regularly gathered. I also recall table times with extended family for Christmas or New Year’s or birthdays. Lorna and I are the proud parents of two adults and our most prominent achievement is raising them to love being at the table together. They both value extending hospitality to friends and newcomers. When they come home, one priority is always our meals together.
Our “nest” is empty now. Our life has changed. Yet each day has a highlight. It comes in the early evening after Lorna or I cooked. We set the table pleasingly, light a candle, say a prayer of thanksgiving while holding hands, and we eat. We are building on our happy memories, continuing to make new ones.