"Scholar George Myerson has recently written a study of happiness. After 250 pages tracking moments of joy throughout history, he concludes that humans are happiest hanging with friends, gathered around tables with good food and conversation and laughter. If you can get that table outside, so the sun can kiss the skin - if as you dine together you can also provide help for others - then, according to Myerson, you've won the lottery of life."
I just finished a book called From Tablet to Table by Leonard Sweet, a short and pretty book that wound up on my Amazon Recommends list and its description spoke to everything that's on my heart right now. It's a book that looks at family life and community identity, and uses research and story to make a call to return to the table as the center of our family lives.
Sweet says that our society has lost its value of the table. Sixty years ago, the average dinnertime was ninety minutes long; today it is less than twelve. And worse yet, Sweet claims that on average, parents spend only 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children. Talk about a reality check when I read that. Our constant connection to life outside of our homes through cell phones and social media, busy schedules and increased work hours, and even the way we design our homes, now with open concepts and kitchen islands were we sit side by side instead of across from one another, have all dramatically changed our dinnertime routines. And according to Sweet, when we give up this sentiment of mealtime around the table, we give up much more than a place to eat. The number one predictor for healthy, intelligent, successful, and kind human beings? Frequent family dinners.
Sweet looks at the life of Jesus to learn more about the importance of life around the table. During his time on earth, Jesus loved doing life at the table, centering a large part of his ministry with food, people, and a table to sit around. I have grown up with the Bible, can recall many stories of Jesus eating or feeding others throughout the New Testament, but always made the mistake of seeing the table as a mere backdrop to the important lessons and stories learned around them. Sweet recounts many of these stories in his book, but instead shows just how important the table was to them. At Simon's house, he put on the table his theology of grace. At Mary and Martha's house, he laid out the importance of relationships. During the last supper, he put on the table his theology of discipleship (111). Jesus not only did some of his most important teachings during mealtime, but in fact, Jesus' favorite image for the kingdom of God is a banquet where everyone is sitting around a table. Sweet says that "when Jesus showed up for dinner, the menu changed. Instead of simply good food, those around the table received the gift of God's presence and the super-food of faith. It is a gift that still continues at every faithful meal we sit down to today." It's so refreshing to think that in our fast-paced, fast-food, frozen-pizza culture, we don't have to look far to find the heart of Jesus' ministry - just a table, a meal, and real conversation with others.
I love to think about Jesus as a foodie like me, a lover of the tastes, smells, and textures that go along with cooking. I love that Jesus’ dining experiences became a lifestyle around which he formed a school of disciples, and that according to John's account of the Cana wedding, the wine didn't run out until Jesus and his friends arrived (Sweet). When Beau and I spend a Friday night in the kitchen, sharing a bottle of wine and cooking and conversing together, or when I spend a Sunday afternoon preparing a week of meals to serve around the table instead of relying on takeout, I am reminded that food is so much more than something good to eat. It's something good to do, to connect with, to think over, to play by, and to romance around. It fills us up in so many ways.
Last month, I had the great pleasure of preparing a meal for our seventh If:Table, a wonderful little ritual that God has shaped this year for me and six other friends. The purpose is simple - just seven of us, who gather once a month at someone's house and share a meal, conversation, and connection. It's been so powerful to see God work through life's changes together, discipling and holding one another accountable, and intentionally finding ways to bring us closer to each other, our families, and to Jesus. We're all unique, but all bring something so rich to the table. Once a month, no matter how busy our lives seem to be, we mindfully set this time aside to slow down, put our devices away, look each other in the eye, and talk together. Our connection has grown and spearheaded monthly lunch dates, long conversations after church, unexpected cards, drop-ins, and bouts of encouragement, and even weekend getaways to lean in closer and learn more together.
Sweet says, "There is an old saying, 'Fishing isn't just fishing.' Similarly, eating isn't just eating. Food connects us to one another while setting us apart, giving us a unique tribal identity." Relationships are like meals, where you feed yourself while feeding each other. I am so thankful for this group of women, for good food, pretty flowers, and for a Jesus who ministered to all us broken people by simply breaking bread together.
"I say, if creation could speak, it would speak like Jesus. Christians believe that creation does speak. All the earth tells its story in the Jesus story. Every stone sings out the stories of Jesus. And so do we. The stories of Jesus, as monumental as they are, are not heroic legends or tales of the heavens. They are ordinary stories of ordinary people in ordinary places doing ordinary things like fishing, tilling fields, and setting tables, but in an extraordinary way. The ideal place to learn the Jesus stories and the Jesus soundtrack is at the table. Throughout the ages, all over the world, people gather at a meal in order to get to know each other. If we really want to learn someone's story, sitting down at the table, breaking bread together, is the best way to start. As we sit and eat together, we don't just pass food around; fellow diners pass bits of themselves back and forth as well, exchanging tales as well as condiments. What's the mortar to build community? The grout of grace that is ladled out at mealtime."