Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Meal Is About More Than Food

Last night I enjoyed a dinner with two long-time good friends. We dined at a restaurant we've been going to for more than 20 years so everything was familiar and relaxed. The table conversation was lively with repartee, teasing and discussion about family, politics, and life.

Sharing food and conversation during a meal isn’t simply a social interaction. When we share a meal together, something deeper and richer occurs. At times, we realize that we aren’t only sharing food and words, we are sharing ourselves. This is how a meal becomes a soul-nourishing experience. As Henri Nouwen writes:

"The table, the food, the drinks, the words, the stories: Are they not the most intimate ways in which we not only express our desire to give our lives to each other, but also do this in actuality? I very much like the expression “breaking bread together” because the breaking and the giving are one."

A meal shared with close friends or a loving family is one of the great experiences of life. When we’re at table, we can be fully present for each other and live in the moment. Laughter is one sign that the meal is soul-nourishing. When we’re truly enjoying ourselves, we are connecting with others on a deeper level.

On the other hand, a meal where those at table are angry with one another or where there is unspoken tension is a soul-sapping experience. We’ve all experienced “painful silences” during a meal and it’s not pleasant. Even worse are meals where harsh words are exchanged.

I’ve experienced both kinds of meals and so have you. That’s why we do whatever we can to make our meals good experiences. Yet, despite our best efforts there will be unpleasant meals. When those occur, a good dose of detachment and non-reactivity can make such experiences at least tolerable. At its best, table fellowship feeds body, mind and soul.

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