We were looking to buy our first house (now 32 years ago.) It was far more expensive than we had imagined. In narrowing the choices of what we could afford, the real estate agent had asked if we wanted a dining room or not. “Not many of the houses have a separate dining room anymore,” she added. We had never thought about it, but after some discussion realized that, cost notwithstanding, we needed a dining room. It was important. Our small “starter” house became our home for the next 25 years – and yes, it had a dining room. Our family grew up around the common dinner table.
Cooking is my hobby. I’ve discovered that there is a difference between cooks and bakers. Bakers measure precisely – ingredients and their proportions are carefully regulated. You get to taste the result only at the end, after it’s come out of the oven.
Cooks experiment. I am a cook, not a baker. I follow a recipe – sort of. I check out the flavours, add a soupcon of this, a dash of that, until the result is what I want. Cooking helps with aggression. Onions being chopped up can be named! Frustrations can be worked out. And, unlike many aspects of ministry, you get to see the results of your labours within a few hours, if not minutes. And the results need to be shared. I delight in cooking for company, and frequently try out new recipes on guests.
We value our meals around our large table, which once belonged to my parents. Not only does family gather there but friends and diocesan and international visitors. When Ellen and I travel on behalf of the diocese, it is not sightseeing that is the attraction but the privilege of sitting around a table for conversation over a meal that builds relationship and deepens understanding across cultures and traditions. We listen to each other’s stories. We hear the frustrations. We celebrate the joys. We learn new ideas and affirm old ones. We find solace and healing, challenge and dreams. We are bound together in more profound connections where the other is no longer a stranger.
Have you noticed that hospital, hospitality, hotel, hospice and host all have the same root? They come from “hostes,” a Latin word meaning stranger or foreigner, hence a guest. Welcome and healing, sharing meals and making whole are intimately linked in both language and experience.
Meals play an important part in Jesus’ ministry. The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, the dean of the Seminary of the Southwest and professor of New Testament, presented the Snell Lectures at our cathedral a couple of years ago. She argues that the Gospel of John is shaped around a series of five meals. In each, an aspect of Jesus person and teaching is revealed, the Kingdom is effectively proclaimed and the nascent church is built up.
This summer, because of the common lectionary, Anglican along with Roman Catholics, Lutherans and in fact the majority of Christians around the world will hear, over a five-week period, the reading of just one chapter of this Gospel: John 6, the feeding of the multitude and an extended interpretation of the meaning of that life-giving meal.
For many of us, the hectic pace and fragmented lives we live leave little space for gatherings around a table and shared family meals. For others, loneliness and isolation will rob them of that chance. That is such a great loss!
This summer, whenever you can, gather around a family table, stand around a BBQ, sit around a camp fire, share a table in a nursing home, meet at a restaurant, share a meal and engage in conversation. Consider not only how you are nourishing your body with the food set before you, but how the conversation deepens your relationships, expands your horizons, and enriches your perception of the image of Christ in your neighbour. (And don’t forget the cook!)
I am thankful that we chose to have a dining room. It has been a school of discipleship.