Sunday, 10 April 2011

Preparing a table

How many different tables did you sit around today? Who did you share a meal with? What did that mealtime mean to you, and to those with you?

Shared time around a table is one of the simple and often taken-for-granted blessings of life, bringing us not just nourishment and enjoyment of taste and texture, but also connection, communication, and celebration. For me today, each ‘table’ – both actual and metaphorical– that has been prepared for me, or that I have prepared, has revealed a unique aspect of what the gift of a mealtime can be...

A table of togetherness and communication: The breakfast table with Amélie was a time for me to love her by laying on delicious, nourishing food for her to enjoy – a whole-wheat maple cinnamon waffle with sea-salted butter, organic apple slices, fruit juice, and fair trade hot chocolate made with local raw milk. And while she ate and I pottered, we talked about both of our dreams that night, and she shared her excitement about the day, and her thoughts on life and chance and death and heaven. As we got ready to walk to church in the sun, she said what a nice time of talking it had been, and I agreed – we had communicated and reconnected.

A table of friendship and familiarity: The early morning ‘Celtic liturgy’ service that we participate in begins with freshly brewed fair trade coffee and something home-baked – usually by gifted and open-handed Carol, today some yummy cinnamon raisin scones – laid out on the café counter for anyone to grab before they sit down at one of the tables. It is a casual, relaxed meeting with friends over a bite to eat, before we enjoy the familiarity of a home-grown liturgy that is meaningful to us as individuals and as a community, with time to read aloud the lectionary readings for the day and share our thoughts, and later our prayers. In words from the liturgy, the blessing of this time is in both its ‘mystery and predictability’.

A table of forgiveness and mercy: And then, each week as part of this gathering, we are invited by the liturgy to: “Come to this table, you who have much faith, and you who would like to have more; you who have been here often, and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed. Come; it is Christ who invited us to meet him here.” We then pass the bread and wine to each other, and I was struck this morning by the fact that I was passed the elements by someone who I know has needed to extend forgiveness to me recently, and that I in turn passed it on to Jeremy, whose love for me must constantly be expressed in forgiveness and mercy, and to whom I too extend these gifts of love. A little later, we read part of St. Patrick’s prayer, the Deer’s Cry or Breastplate, and I was moved again by the affirmation that Christ is on my left and my right – embodied in these two with whom I exchange forgiveness – and by the prayer that Christ “be in the heart of each to whom I speak, in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.” Though I often wish the prayer affirmed Christ’s presence in MY heart and mouth, I see the profound truth hidden in the fact that Christ is always found in the ‘other’, if I have eyes to see.

A table of blessing and family: The children were leading the later, ‘family’ service today, and Amélie and I had been asked to give out the bread and wine along with other parent-child teams (two communion tables in one morning!). I felt richly blessed and privileged to be alongside my daughter as she solemnly offered the plate of bread to each person with the carefully memorized words “The body of Christ broken for you”, and as I then offered the ‘wine’. Many who came to the table we ‘prepared’ were families, children, and I was thankful for the mysterious and inexplicable yet also very concrete and simple nature of this sacrament – it is a table at which we are all welcome.

A table of celebration and laughter: It felt like the first day of spring today – finally, a warm weekend! – and we decided to enjoy an impromptu picnic with friends in the sun in St Andrews, a local seaside town where we could lay out all our offerings of French bread and chicken, hummus and olives, grapes and chips (aka crisps!) on a picnic blanket overlooking the glistening ocean, share stories and jokes, laugh, and celebrate together the blessings of friendship, humanity, good food and sunshine.

A table of generosity and beauty: The next table that was prepared for me was something of a surprise – a little side table (that Amélie laboured over setting up for me in the garden as I snoozed in the hot car!) bedecked with pretty cloth and flower vase, in order to beautify my first hammock experience of the year. It was a heartfelt, thoughtful act of generosity, much like the card and flowers she spent ALL her money on for me yesterday, and so as I swung in the hammock I was basking in this spontaneous and undeserved love, as much as in the sun. With her, more than with anyone else in this world, I am constantly aware of my shortcomings and failures, and so her tenderness and generosity towards me undoes me. It is mercy and grace poured into my cup and overflowing. I have shared so many table-times with my family – some happy, and some miserable, angry or stressful – but still we gather to meet and eat together every day, demonstrating our ongoing love and mercy towards each other as we are. I remember an idea from Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy, that the Bible’s talk of compassion or mercy (both from God to us and from us to each other, especially those closest to us) would best be translated by the word pity, the point being that it is something we don’t like to admit our need of, a word we might even be insulted by, but is in fact something we DESPERATELY need. We are all so wounded (and wounding) that only pity makes life and love possible for us. So, today, I feel pitied, and I drink it in like a cup of cold water in a desertland.

A table of sharing and connection: My last table of the day was a weekly potluck meal with friends, made possible by the sacrificial and joyful hospitality of Grace and Mat. The food is always wonderful and varied, the atmosphere is comfortable and happy, good conversations take place, connections are renewed or created, and there is usually at least one song – and sometimes lots! – playing on the radio Classic Countdown (from 1975 today!) that prompts over half the room to stand up in the kitchen and boogie! The sharing of the food at such a gathering – each offering unique and often complementary to the other parts – mirrors the best of what a mealtime can be, as each person shares the truth and gift of who they are, and receives in turn the gift of the other.

“Christ beside me, on my left and my right.”

So, dear friends and readers and fellow journeyers on the path of ‘Learning to Savour’ all that life offers, I would love to hear (if you are in fact there, and have read this far!) about a recent meal of yours and what it meant to you – either in the simple enjoyment of some great food, or in the gift of those you shared it with. This will have to take the place, for now, of sharing a REAL meal together! Please share...


  1. This is something i really miss as a single, and appreciate so much when I entertain or eat with others; family table time is sooo important, yet sadly often neglected these days. Yea for the first picnic of the year in St Andrew's; I had mine last weekend on a beach at St Jean Cap Ferrat - in a bikini ;) I adored Amélie's small, garden table prepared for you. My recent special moment was last night in a small restaurant in the Vieux Nice. Chez Juliette is just off Place Rossetti, but I don't think I ever took you and Jeremy there. The food and wine was good, but the best was being able to catch up with a German friend, who used to live in Nice and whom I hadn't seen for 7 years. It was lovely to hear how happy she is in her new location in Switzerland.

  2. I like the sound of your meal 'Chez Juliette' - maybe you and I should also go there in May?! And the bikini-clad picnic on the beach - way to go! I always love sharing meals with you, so let's do it again soon... :-) XR

  3. I am thinking about your breakfast with Amelie and I have to say that she is a very blessed little girl to have such a moment with such a mother. I am going to make my own parents sweet potato something or other tonight for dinner. It's a crazy chapter of life, when you grow up enough to realize how much your parents have given you, and you try in silly little ways to give back to them. My own efforts are so small in comparison but they mean just as much to the recipients, maybe even more so because they are more capable of appreciating the gifts than I was when I was a child. But oh, it does make me smile, this breakfast scene. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thank YOU, Karis! Just as you love the thought of the breakfast scene, I love the thought of the sweet potato supper scene as you give back to your parents in small but very meaningful ways - what a great daughter you are! :-) XR