Last weekend we drove to Charlotte to visit some old friends. When we were first married, and so were they, we lived down a block and around a little s-bend from each other in the dodgy end of Winston. We used to walk to each others’ houses for dinner, great to have close company when it snows, and watch cable on their TV since we didn’t have it. One time we got around to wondering if the guys, were they to yell loud enough, would be able to communicate from our front door to theirs. They tried it, and it worked, even though it just sounded like muffled shouting in the distance.
Juliet and I were walking around her new neighborhood, each with our stroller, while the guys cooked dinner. They live in a beautiful new house that has a yard and trees and an upstairs – a lot has changed in four years, for both of us – and we were discussing the institution of dinner. She said that she wanted to commit, once their daughter was able to understand and take part, to eating dinner around the table as a family. Having grown up in a house where that practice was institutional, I agreed instantly, recalling thousands of dinners at the dark, antique table, how I would run my finger along the edge where the wood had pulled up and chipped beside the leaf in front of the place I sat, the fact that we always used linen, not paper, the way my mom would tap the dimmer switch to darken the room a bit, and how we would all complain that is was too dark.
What is it about sharing a meal around the table? To me, it is the essence of heaven. Those people I like, I love, that make me laugh, that tell stories, that remember the way life was when… that look forward to futures together. Celebrating what we have been, what we are, and what we hope to be. Sharing a meal around a table, even though it always ends, is almost eternal in its nature.
Another friend gave me a book recently, Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. She said, “I thought of you all the way through this book.” Because there are so few empty waking hours I am discriminating about what I choose to read. I want fiction. Rich, well-written, compelling fiction because it doubles as escape & study. I am not tempted by non-fiction, but she told me about this book with such obvious conviction that I would read it and be totally swept up, that I agreed.
I was crying on the thirteenth page.
“What’s becoming clearer and clearer to me is that the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God’s presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table. This particular alchemy of celebration and food, of connecting people and serving what I’ve made with my own hands, comes together as more than the sum of their parts. I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at the table, hands passing bowls and forks clinking against plates and bread being torn and the rhythm and energy of feeding and being fed.”
YES. I wanted to text Shauna and say, “What you said on p. 13, mmhmm. You’re singing my song.” I wanted to know this woman. I wanted to thank her for putting a name with a face of these feelings I have toward the evening meal.
A few nights ago we had dinner with some friends. We sat outside on their back deck and ate a very simple meal of grilled chicken, salad and bread. It was unnaturally delicious — fresh, as summer, with all of its natural, vibrant flavor. I brought wine and dessert. It had been a somewhat long day with several added detours I hadn’t anticipated. I had decided to make chocolate-dipped bananas because it is a light dessert without much effort in the prep. What I conveniently forgot is that I have never — I do mean not one time in all of the times I have tried — been able to successfully melt chocolate in a double boiler. Every time it turns into a gritty chocolate paste, tread lines etched into the pot from stirring, and the chocolate “sauce” almost completely stuck to the spoon in one large clump. This time I followed directions online, did exactly what it said, and the result was no different. But then it was 6:54, we were supposed to be arriving at their house at 7:00, Jack wasn’t even dressed. I dipped (scooped) the bananas in the chocolate mess anyway, looking for the softest places in the pot, and laid them out on the parchment paper. I expressed to Mark how embarrassed I was to be bringing such a hideous dessert as an offering to our hosts, and he laughed, agreeing it was pretty ugly, but reminded me that chocolate and butter is chocolate and butter, no matter how disgusting it appears.
The meal was perfect and lovely outside, and we talked for a long, long time about real life and real faith. We chewed on the question of a life after Jesus in this culture, in this country, in this city, this year. We talked about our choices, the ins and outs of our decision making, the way God is challenging us in a new way to question our motives and desires and put them up against his Word and the life of Jesus. Our conversation was rejuvenating, and sitting with friends in the warm light from inside, watching faces, drinking wine, nibbling on the crusty ends of the baguette was good. It was good.
And then the bananas came out. I was embarrassed again, until Kelly shook her head at me and said, “Who cares what they look like?” and then I ate one and it was so cool and hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Such a good exclamation point to the night. What we ate didn’t matter. It was sweet, and sweet to eat them together, and I was reminded again of the holy magic that takes place with people we love around the dinner table.