The Family Meal

Four years ago this past summer, Laura and I went through an intensive marriage counseling retreat through Blessing Ranch Ministries in Tampa, Florida.  No, we weren’t having major marital mishaps, but we wanted a mid-course tune-up as we were approaching our 25th wedding anniversary.  

It was an amazing four-day experience of listening, learning and growing.  We came away with a renewed vision for our marriage and family, including a vision to dream new dreams.  And dream we did.  We had eighteen dreams, in fact, for the future of our marriage, family and ministry.  Laura dreamed about enjoying the experience of hospitality by opening our home to others.  She dreamed about writing a blog, de-cluttering the house, painting some rooms, and reaching out to our neighbors.  I dreamed about writing books, learning another language, and speaking more nationally and internationally.

But one dream, more than any other, has encapsulated our commitment to a healthy marriage and family, and that is the dream of the family meal.  Though unimpressive at first glance, the family meal has the power to deepen relationships and create a better pace and rhythm for life.  

The way we worded this dream in our counseling session was, “Make dining an enjoyable and meaningful experience.”  That was four-and-a-half years ago.  We’re still working on it, but we’re making progress.  Why is this so important?  Because in our social-media, 24/7-news-and-sports world, we have lost the art of conversation, presence, and community.  

We eat on the run instead of at the table.  We eat alone instead of with someone else.  We eat in cars, on stools, in front of the TV, or while we’re checking our phones.  And we wonder why we’re not connecting as a family or why we feel so alone.  Eating has become the pragmatic act of filling one’s belly while neglecting the soul.

I’ve been learning from the Benedictines, who have followed the Rule of Benedict since it was developed by its founder over 1,500 years ago.  Part of this “rule” is the common table, a monastic practice of undying tenacity.  In Benedictine spirituality, eating is not an act of survival but an act of community.  

The common table is a time to practice statio and lectio, tools we desperately need to develop healthy marriages and families.  Statio is the practice of stopping one thing before we begin another (Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, 176).  It is the time between times, the rest between musical notes.  The common table, or family meal, is time to pause between our work and evening activities.  Lectio, or sacred reading, is the discipline of keeping our eyes on the transforming moments of life (idem.).  The family meal can simply be the time to satiate our growling bellies, or it can be a transformative moment where we hear and are heard, where we laugh and give thanks.

I encourage you to start this week, maybe with just one meal, where you plan ahead, set the table, bring out the candles, and prepare your food together.  Then, instead of eating your supper quickly, so that you can move on to “more important things,” practice statio.  Pause.  Enjoy the moment.  Ask each other questions and really listen to the answers.  Practice lectio, where you see transformation occur, even over a salad or a nicely prepared dish of Green Chile Vermicelli.  You never know what God might show you when you take time to pause, watch and listen.