"Stop fretting. Come and eat."
That was my late grandmother's general cure for any difficult situation. Just drop it for now, come sit down at the table, and we'll all eat together. THEN we'll work through it.
Mind you, this was the advice from the person in my family "most likely to clash with you." No doubt, my granny was a fiery woman. She was a highly opinionated, not easily persuaded person. But she understood the need to call a truce at the dinner table.
The dinner table is an interesting place for me. It's my source of greatest comfort and the source of my greatest baggage. Growing up in an alcoholic family, it was the place most likely to erupt at my house. My parents' table was a far different place than my grandparents' table. It was like two different worlds. My parents' table was a battlefield; my grandparents' table was an oasis.
The magic of my grandparents' table was probably what drew me to the full meaning of the Eucharist. My grandparents' table had one rule: NO FIGHTING. I firmly belived that the main reason her generation survived the Depression was they sat together at the table and shared what they had.
Even living alone, I realize that a "shared meal" is important to me. Home alone, I share with my dogs. At the homes of others, I share good conversation, respectful debate, compliments to the chef. If you gave me the choice of sharing leftovers at your house, vs. a meal at the fanciest restaurant in town, I'd pick the leftovers at the homes of friends. My guess is that the level to which it touches my heart for someone to invite me to put my feet under their dinner table would surprise them. When I think about certain friends of mine, the images that often come into play in my mind are images of "sitting at their kitchen table." Likewise, my fondest memories of "good days at church" center around the altar and the sharing the Eucharistic table.
Now, that doesn't mean my entire experience has been happy happy joy joy. As I mentioned earlier, I have those fond memories DESPITE some very traumatic dinner table memories, and the Eucharistic table is no exception. There have been times I did NOT feel welcome at God's table, or made to feel less of a full participant in the process. Suffice it to say it had more to do with experiences in my past where I learned that there are people out there who use God's table as punishment, or a way to separate and classify, or a way to create guilt. There are times I might have felt so uncomfortable about myself that I did not feel worthy of God's table. But these are all feelings, that, the only way they are ever overcome is to keep coming to the table anyway.
As I alluded to in my previous post, Ash Wednesday is the time we go to the altar twice--one to get the ashes on our forehead, and once to share the sacramental meal. I think it's important to recognize we return that second time, "dirty." Our being holy and squeaky clean is NOT a requirement to share the body and blood of Christ. In fact, if that were the case, why would we need it at all? The truth of the matter is, every week, whether we recognize it or not, we ARE coming to the table with dirt under our fingernails, or with the tar of a weary world smeared on us, or with dog doo on our shoes. Ash Wednesday is the only day where we wear a visible and outward sign of that "dirt."
It's the time I feel the most unsure, the most separated, the most out of place that I have to remember my grandmother's voice--"Stop fretting. Come and eat."