Yesterday at Judson, where we have a kitchen for a whole church that is smaller than most bathrooms in most houses, we fed close to 400 people. The Rev. Howard Moody’s long ministry was being remembered. 35 years is a long time to do anything! The sandwiches were pear and turkey with a near pesto sauce as well as bacon crisps and apples. They were a nice size, giving a near lunch to people after the 11 a.m. service. What was remarkable was all the leftovers. People brought other trays to pass, trays of hulled strawberries and sliced kiwis. And they chipped and dipped, and chipped and dipped some more.
So strange this week: a storm, an election, a memorial service. Food, food, food. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get rid of all of the bags of chips left behind (I counted a dozen at last survey) and get them to the Rockaways, where some one might enjoy them, as opposed to wondering what to do with them. Famine, feast, surplus, leftovers…….all among us now.
I recently stayed at a hotel in Denver, “The Boulderado”, where the room was so big and the bathroom was so big that I had an urgency to sublet the place. New York visits Boulder. When I got home to New York, guess what was parked outside my office? A truck with a garden on top of it. Yup. A Garden, with lettuce and beans growing in it. Now that was a good use of space.
When you see this play, you watch a woman governing her solitude in an open and hospitable way. Such a trick, to be at table, as yourself, in yourself and with others. Edith Wharton did it.
In this blog I am trying to make a simple, small point. It is that grace at table could change us and make us less inured to poverty, less afraid of our own courage, more capable of the world we want for ourselves and each other. I use the wheelbarrow as a picture because it helps us lift heavy things, lightly, similarly to prayer or grace at table.
I am at the Chautauqua Institution with a glittery group of multi faith folk, led by The Right Reverend Tracey Lind, who is the preacher for the week. Biggest topic: why is the communion or Eucharist table not ALWAYS open? By the way. it is the Roman Catholic Priests and Nuns who are leading this discussion. It is an easy subject for Protestants but not for them. Tracey’s point was that the feeding of the 5000 was the first Eucharist and that it was surely open. What if the stem of poverty is in the closed table that we practice ritualistically? Oh, my.
Where is my wheelbarrow when I need it?
It’s always good to have a little team work for a hard job. Imagine food without fuel.
My Interview with Australian Gardening TV Guru
Costa is his name, gardening is his game. Don’t you love his hair?
Playing with Caleb, our three year old grandson, in the park involved us in a discovery of a wheelbarrow, unused, forlorn, orphaned. We stacked wood and twigs in it, then made a make believe fire, breathed, lived, laughed. Prayer at table is like that.
Praying at table doesn’t have to be part of our Olympic or heroic pattern. We can grunt a prayer, as anyone who has ever been in a foxhole knows. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with eloquence either. I used to try for it on Facebook and a few of my best correspondents, like Mary Luti and Maren Tirabassi still do. If prayer at table is good, and a grunt towards God is acceptable, then imagine how much more beautiful eloquence could be, for you and for those who get to hear the prayers
From grunt to grace is not far, as the crow flies. A lot depends on getting your stale story about yourself out of the way. If a grunt removes heroic self-consciousness, great. Grace has come to your table. If writing an eloquent prayer becomes a tongue twister and you find yourself competing with yourself or others in the wordsmithing Olympics, grace at table has already passed you by. Why bother?
A beautiful prayer popped up at a table in New Hampshire on Friday night. We were with our friends Michael Ferber and Susan Arnold. Susie had fixed a goat meat tagine; Michael had made a cold blueberry soup. We were watching the Olympics out of our side ears and eyes. The bugs weren’t biting. The golden retriever, “Lola”, whom we have both called our own over the years, was quietly attending the cocktail hour with a tennis ball. There was enough eloquence of food and air, friendship and ambiance. to allow prayer to emerge, rather than be grunted. I prayed a quickie, straight from my heart. “Thank you, God.” Then Warren lit the Shabbat candles. Then Michael remembered this prayer:
“Fix thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not in the uneven motions that sway the world but go steadily on our way, neither censuring the journey for the weather we meet nor turning aside from aught that befalls us.”
We know it comes from the Unitarians but we are not sure which ones. Sourcing of eloquence is always appreciated. The goat came from down the road in Stratford, New Hampshire. The blueberries came from when Susie and Lola had “gone pickin.”
The benefits of an intentional fast are well known. Those two dates that many eat at the end of a Ramadan day are precious. They not only recycle the digestive system. They begin the food for the night. They remind us of the great sweetness of food itself. The benefits of an unintentional fast are fewer, even if hunger is more widely known. I think of the journal entries of writer Mavis Gallant, published in a recent New Yorker, July 2012. In these “Hunger Diaries,” she describes living in Europe without money for food, because her agent “forgot” to send her money she had earned by writing short stories. She sold all her good clothes. She became unintentionally well acquainted with fasting. Intention and food and fasting create a great density of consciousness. Hunger unintentioned is a mistake, something that happens to people because of something someone else forgot. To remember is grace at table.