Our dining table was bought at an auction – Baltic pine top with turned wooden legs painted gloss black.
People say it has character. Maybe that’s just a nice way of saying it’s old and tired, but I don’t mind.
What appealed to me as I circumnavigated the eight-seater on the concrete floor of the auction house was the raw timber marked with knots, scratches, nail heads and indentations. It was like looking at the flotsam of many meals shared.
I liked the thought that we could add our own marks to this table – and we have. There’s a splotch of red paint from the time my son loaded his brush to outline a fierce dinosaur on butchers paper. There are subtle impressions from the many times I have written shopping lists and letters. There are crumbs in the cracks and circular watermarks, coffee marks, wine marks.
Secretly, I hope our kids will engrave their initials in it someday.
Of all the pieces of furniture in the home, the table is perhaps the most significant and least acknowledged in terms of family relationships.
In his book From Tablet to Table (NavPress, 2014), author Leonard Sweet quotes some startling statistics about table time. For example, 60 years ago the average dinnertime was 90 minutes. Today, we’re lucky to spend 12 minutes chowing down collectively at the family dinner table.
We eat out, we eat in front of the television, we eat with one hand while the other thumbs at a smartphone. Even if we are seated in civilised fashion, eyeballing family members, if your house is anything like ours there seems to be a perpetual undercurrent of haste. Get the kids fed so they can have a bath so they can get dressed for bed so they can go to bed so we can watch tele so we can unwind so we can go to bed.
“At the table, where food and stories are passed from one person to another and one generation to another, is where each of us learns who we are, where we come from, what we can be, to whom we belong, and to what we are called,” he writes.
“Better to eat simply together than eat haute cuisine alone.
“In the memories we make and recall, in the stories we tell and retell, in the family recipes we eat and repeat, there are things we learn at the family table we don’t learn anywhere else,” he continues.
The man I most respect in all of history used the humble mealtime to impart wisdom.
Jesus set a table not only with his family but with the rabble of people drawn to his teaching. Widows, rip-off merchants, high-and-mighties, the sick and the unlovely. He shared meals with them all, much to the disgust of the church leaders of the day.
Jesus’ meals were seasoned with more than salt and pepper – he brought stories of love, grace and hope. He invited guests to digest his own story of salvation for all.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8)
“How sweet are your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)
There are several levels to this degustation.
One: let’s come back to the table in the family nucleus so we can connect, truly get to know each other, share the stories of our days, learn fundamentals like manners, how to listen and how to empathise. Not to mention, how to enjoy food!
Two: it was never about the food. The company should always be the focus.
And three: Jesus has prepared a place at his table for every one of us, to feed our very spirit. When we eat and drink of this meal, our souls will never hunger or thirst again.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday April 13, 2015.