Spoiler alert: More than you think
A few days ago, a friend of mine shared a video on my Facebook timeline. Now, it should be said, I generally hate most viral videos. Who’s got time for angry cats and weather-related gag reels? But because the friend who shared it isn’t one for trivial things, I couldn’t help but watch.
Chances are, if you’re active online at all, you've seen it, too. This promotional video comes to us by way of Canada (as all good things do!) with the tagline: Eat Together. “We're on a mission to get Canadians to eat together,” says the foodie group President’s Choice. “Because so much good happens when we do.”
I can vouch for the truth of that statement, as one who a) really loves to eat, and b) has spent the last three weekends breaking bread with a delightful host of friends and neighbours.
Now, it's well and good to rhetorically say how marvelous it is to share meals, but what exactly is so profound about the shared space of a dinner table? What sort of good really happens when we eat together? And why exactly did this video move my husband to near tears?
I've got a few ideas:
1) You're trapped.
When my grandmother first met my husband-to-be, she spoke very close to him; so close, in fact, that he kept stepping further back until he was pressed up against a baby grand piano, and still nose-to-nose with this imposing white-haired lady. They've been just as close, affectionately if not geographically, ever since.
When we eat with others, we are literally sharing the same space. Politeness keeps us seated at the table, forcing us to keep a steady rhythm of interaction. Sure, words like “trap” and “force” don’t sound like particularly neighbourly verbs, but it’s the creative conversation spark many of us need. Sitting across from someone without an easy getaway compels us to find common ground beyond the floor beneath our feet.
2) The art of giving and taking.
Our monthly-ish home group is a feast of moving hands, sticky fingers and motherly ladeling of culinary flavours. We are constantly passing and sharing, asking for help or offering more. It is giving and taking in its most simple form:
Here, take some bread.
Could you please pass the butter?
We bring to the table not just our earthly hungers, but our spiritual ones, too. We aren’t just asking for food; we are asking for a deeper life, one which includes each person at the table. When we pass the plate, pour wine, or wipe little mouths, we are offering to fill one another; we are giving sustenance and life, minding one another with care.
3) We make room for more.
If I were honest, I’d tell you that I’d be happy just sitting with my tribe of five every night from here till heaven. We’re a fun little crew; messy and loud to be sure, but with them is where I feel safest. My family is my home.
But we need more. We need to add a few chairs, clear off a few places. We need an old friend to stop by, I need serve him our first batch of pancakes, and I suddenly realise how much I truly enjoy doing it (if you know me and my distaste for cooking, you know this is a biggie).
We need to make room for dinner invitations, for little ones to play with our forgotten toys, for questions and answers and prayers. As we add to the table, our definition of family grows. Guests bring fresh air and new ideas where we might’ve felt stalled or stale, and we feel not just less hungry, but less alone.
As we enter Lent – the season of sacrificial abstaining so that we know Christ better in his sufferings – perhaps we should put on just one little thing: what we bring to the table.
Think about what you have to offer – or what you might have to give up – to your neighbours, and invite them to pull up a chair. You'll be surprised at the flavour it'll add to your life.