Isn’t it uncanny how often significant conversations begin while seated around a table? Be they first coffee dates, university discussion groups, Sunday family lunches, funny stories shared around a campfire, or the significance of the wedding banquet across cultures worldwide, conversation grows relational connection, often facilitated by the sharing of food and drink. How can you begin a weekly practice of curated, intentional conversations, seated around a table of your choosing?
Here are a few questions to kickstart your conversation:
5 Tips for Family Meals
(From “Reclaiming the Dinner Hour,” by Joyce Hendley)
“You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat: So I did sit and eat.”
(George Herbert, “Love (III)”)
To practice Christian meditation literally means “to chew upon” a Scriptural text as one would savour a delicious mouthful of food. How can you develop a weekly rhythm as a Jesus follower of “chewing upon the Bread of Life?” One method involves the spiritual practice of “Lectio Divina: Sacred Reading”, a simple way to slowly open your heart to the Living Word of God alive within the Scriptures. Experiment with face-to-face moments each week (whether in person, or via FaceTime) where you are chewing on the weekly liturgy with someone else in our community.
The liturgy for October 2015 is as follows:
“Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside of your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.”
(Deuteronomy 6:5-9, MSG)
“Point your kids in the right direction – when they’re old they won’t be lost.”
(Proverbs 22:6, MSG)
Perhaps Moses knew what he was talking about after all. As I’ve read through Deuteronomy over the years, whether formally in study for an Old Testament hermeneutics course, or informally for devotion, I’ve often questioned the literalness of his instruction throughout Old Testament law, a seemingly needless rigidity in his final instruction to the Israelite nation, a patriarch making peace with the reality his people – his wandering family – was about to enter their new home, ‘the Promised land,’ without him. His instructions seem culturally rooted in a different historical age, irrelevant to the demands of modern technology and this age we live within.
And yet, when I consider the reality that human beings have a universally biological need to eat, and a social need to eat together (William Doherty, “Reclaiming the Dinner Hour”), I realise the deep wisdom in Moses’ urgent plea towards his friends. Do whatever it takes to help your family remember God, who has fashioned you in His Image. Whether seated at the table eating dinner, taking a walk to the park, or in the normalcy of human life, consider God’s Kingdom within your midst. Invite God into your daily space, into ‘every room’ of your house. This is the secret of the Kingdom – God is already near. Open to His presence all around you! Invite a friend to ponder this Kingdom reality with you this month, using the spiritual practice of “Imagining the Text: Ignatian Contemplation” to imaginatively enter into the scene of Deuteronomy 6:1-25 in The Message.
Until becoming a parent, I never understood the importance most families placed on sitting together to eat dinner around the same table, at the same time. How was this act of sustenance actually connecting, I often wondered growing up? If you think about it, it is strange that one of the few universal rituals we have left within the family is that of eating together. And yet, as our daughter turns 18 months old this week, actively moving in every single direction as quickly as possible, the idea of a central gathering place, whether a formally set dining table with the candles lit, or a haphazardly arranged set of footstools placed in a semi-circle around our daughter’s high chair, only grows in importance as the dinner hour approaches each night. There is something sacred in the act of slowing down, phones stowed away, simply eating together without distraction. Whether you have children, are married or not, or find yourself sharing a table with a bunch of roommates you attend university with, consider the following survey results measuring the impact of the family dinner hour from the Center for Adolescent Health and Development at the University of Minnesota (USA):
As William Doherty, Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota, concludes, mealtimes are also critically important for relational connection. “It’s one of the few opportunities families have to be together as a group, sharing in conversation,” he says. “We all have a biological need to eat and a social need to eat together.” What would it look like to begin to slowly reclaim the family dinner hour, regardless of ‘what sort of family’ you find yourself in? How could the communal act of breaking bread with regularity actually grow relational intimacy, the literal bonds that tie family together, moving you from isolation to connection, individual to family unit? Explore the reclamation of the ‘family dinner hour’ this month as a prophetic act of relational connection in an increasingly isolated world.