Reflection for the Week-- July 13, 2008
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1: 4-9
I sat at my grandfather's table for the better part of 28 years. And, although he is no longer with us, I continue to sit at the feet of his teachings.
Gathering at "Mr. Earl's" dining room table was more than just an opportunity for a good meal. It was the beginning of a 'moment'-a moment whereby those who listened carefully could glean from this rather quiet, faithful man, nuggets of invaluable wisdom.
Funny how we rarely characterize such moments as foundational as they happen. No, we wait until later, when life moves on or shifts focus, to recognize the places and people who shaped how we consider the most important principles.
In a world of such fast paced schedules and priorities, gathering at any table is a rarity or luxury. But, as many have discovered, the absence of the "family table" creates significant issues for connecting loved ones together, not just in the sense of proximity or fellowship, but also through the inability to communicate wisdom, history and guidance from one generation to another.
And, lest we forget, the "Table life" is central to the Christian faith, too. From the heart of Jesus' ministry to the core of our modern practice, Christians cling to life at The Table as a primary consideration of how God instructs and connects God's people.
I learned valuable lessons at my grandfather's table through stories and anecdotes that came to dominate my life. But, as I learned later, those lessons did not originate with my grandfather. No, he received that wisdom from earlier generations who, themselves, anchored their lives deeply in a much richer wisdom found and lived within the Word of God.
Scripture teaches us about real relationship and connection to others, highlighting our need to be connected to one another in an unique, yet common way.
Let's be clear, my grandfather taught real lessons gathered around a real table with very real people. However, I believe you can recognize those places or people or relationships in your own life that point to a life worth living.
Sure, not all of the tables of our lives bring happy memories. I discovered a book several years ago entitled, A Wolf at the Table, a powerful, memoir about an abusive father. Maybe your memories of your family table bring sadness, regret or remorse. Our tables speak honestly to our most sacred and, sometimes, sorrowful places. Your table may have been a painful place or a place worth forgetting. But, my grandfather used to say ain't so doesn't equal supposed to be. I always wondered about that phrase until I realized that God puts broken lives back together because there is something better. Life's ain't so is not the same as God's supposed to be.
And, not all tables look alike. Many of us may see a neatly arranged table full of silverware and china, surrounded by well-crafted chairs. But, for some folks, their tables are TV trays, hospital carts or hot dog stands. It doesn't matter what the table looks like, it matters what the table becomes as we gather around it. Two days after my heart surgery, my wife and I gathered around a makeshift table in ICU and she fed me my first meal of the rest of my life. I will never forget the smell and the taste (or lack thereof) of the broth, nor shall I ever forget the beautiful look of my wife's eyes as I realized, one more time, why I love her so much.
Our tables are not meant to be complex; they don't need to be. The Table is radically simple and familiar. All of us have stories and situations that point us back to a table of fellowship, conversation, food, or fun in our lives. Maybe, at first glance, these lessons do not appear as particularly "Christian" or "religious". I suspect many folks will think of their own grandfathers or uncles or grandmothers before they think of God.
But, God will not mind. That is why the "table life" came to mean so much in our faith. God, through Jesus, gathered those He loved around a table, took ordinary bread and made it the extraordinary Body of Christ. Then, at that same table, Jesus took common wine and made it the uncommon forgiveness for sins. With the table, as with many things, God begins with the simple concepts. No showmanship needed.
There are gobs (yes, I like that word -it sounds like a word used in my grandmother's kitchen) of other works about food, fellowship, friends and family, but, that is an advantage in this case.
Think about it.--- I believe Paula Deen or Rachel Ray resonate because they touch an even deeper sense in all of us. Food is just the tip of the iceberg. There is more to it. Jesus recognized this. So did my grandfather. And, so do you. More than the turnips, tuna, or tiramisu--it is The Table.
These lessons around these tables are about simple ideas in grand conversations; grand concepts in simple places. What can one learn from eavesdropping in on my grandfather's table? Shhhh--- sit back, gather loved ones around your table this week, listen and be amazed.