“Girls, set the table!” Our spines would cringe as we were pulled away from our Barbie game.
“Coming,” we groaned as we plodded into the country kitchen and carefully placed the knife on the same side as the spoon, fork on the left, and each place setting topped with a glass flipped upside down. My sister and I would argue about who got the pretty spoon, and often the placemats would be forgotten — much to my mother’s chagrin.
I admit that our groanings about the task of setting the table was a bit dramatic and misplaced, and yet, the set table’s importance was not.
You see, in my growing up years, nobody ate alone. Breakfast, lunch, and supper were always shared around the darkly stained, oval table. My mom would regularly recall how this table looked when she purchased it second-hand from an elderly woman. It came glossy and smooth, with matching chairs. It will leave water-stained and chipped, with food crusted in the cracks. The elderly woman is turning over in her grave, while I am left with an image of home.
Adam Gopnik, author of The Table Comes First, describes the table as “the one plausible hearth of family life, the raft to ride down the river of our existence, even in the hardest of times.” I am reluctant to give the table such a centrality; however, I deeply resonate with the metaphor of the table as a hearth. We often refer to the hearth as a fireplace adorned with family pictures, meaningful figurines, artwork, or even the family Bible. What if our hearth was embodied, instead of being a repersentation of what we choose to display? Sure, it would not be as neat, and the dust would never settle, but it would be alive. If our hearth was a table, it would be about the mess of chewed food, the checked out glance, the frustrated head in the hand, the television in the background, and the habitual quick prayers. Not always pretty, but our existence hardly ever is.
In 1911, Quaker Oats advertised:
“We made a canvass of sixty-one poor houses in thirty-one states, for types of unsuccessful. We found that ninety-three percent of inmates were not brought up on oatmeal.”
Of course, this is a statistic that connects irrelevant topics – oatmeal and crime. No one, not even Quaker Oats, can claim that hot cereal keeps you out of trouble. However, let us imagine that hot cereal in the morning means a person had a measure of nourishing routines and a mother who took on the task of moulding their family’s tastes and zest for life. Oatmeal holds power.
We need to take a step back, because we are imagining a mother in an apron, children with combed hair, and a father who just put down his briefcase. We know better; life is layered, and the table will mirror this. For example, my current table is the resting place for junk mail, and dinner time often finds me reading or listening to the radio because I am trying to forget that I am eating alone. Maybe yours looks similar, or maybe there is someone missing, or maybe dinner is a battle. This is all a bit more uncomfortable; however, this is the placesetting for grace. In my case, grace sounds a lot like Elijah’s voice inviting me over for blueberry pancakes, tastes like Tuesday dinners at Danielle and Jordan’s with friends, and looks like the high-top tables at the Bread Bar where I drink a glass of wine with co-workers.
Tables will never be the way we want them to be, set just so. Despite this, we gather around a table to be reminded that no matter what was said or done, left unsaid or undone, we are welcomed.
The mission of Intersection is to help our readers to see how the gospel of Jesus intersects & transforms all of life in a very real way. Our goal is to destroy the false & harmful dichotomy between 'the sacred' & 'the secular' by presenting a wide range of perspectives that focus on different aspects of life in the city. These stories, reflections, observations, & opinions all have one thing in common—the shared conviction that every arena of life can be holy & beautiful when it is lived out in full awareness of the gospel & in full submission to the leadership of Jesus. Although the Intersection team loves, values, & supports all of its contributors, the views expressed in their posts are ultimately their own & may not necessarily reflect the beliefs & values of New City Church.