The Daily Practice:
ONE MEAL A DAY WITH OTHERS
We long to live lives characterized by generosity and not necessity. Lives that turn outward instead of inward. The habit of sharing a meal at least once a day with others is not only a way to begin thinking about this, but it’s a way of practicing that outward generosity on a daily basis.
Eating is one of the most mundane and regular things we do, and yet it is also one of the most profound things we do. How, and with who, we eat raises all kinds of questions about what life means.
It raises questions about our place in the world. Eating reminds us that we are utterly dependent on the lives and sacrifices of others. If plants and animals don’t die, we don’t live. In eating we enter a web of radical interconnectedness with the earth and all the creatures that live and die in it. While eating raises very difficult questions about sacrifice, sustainability, and what it means to share the world, it also reminds us of the generosity of life. As humans that eat we become part of a community engaged in unceasing acts of small service and generosity as we feed and are fed by each other.
It also raises questions about who we are. The table is a place where all humans have something in common, they must eat if they want to live. And yet the table a place that often emphasizes our division. The rich eat well, the poor struggle to eat at all. This class eats here, this race eats there. The outcast eats alone.
Thus to eat intentionally, and to eat with others intentionally, is to cultivate the glory which waits patiently inside the mundane. As people who are loved by God and invited to his table, we strive to be people who regularly open our tables to others. In making a habit of it, we begin a radical outward turn to the world. We take hold of the table as the place of hospitality, friendship and service.
The Common Rule habit of one meal a day with others is an act of resistance against schedules that force us into constant meals on-the-go or alone. But it is more fundamentally an act of embracing the other by meeting at the table.
To start, we must let our guard down. Daily eating is not feasting, it is common eating. We are not talking about fancy hospitality or the seasonal party. We are not talking about having the house clean or even the most healthy meal ready. We are talking about everyday eating. Leftovers maybe, but at least in the presence of others. This is a place of humility in our current culture which prizes expensive and beautiful food. There is plenty of beauty to eating and much that could be said on that, but in this habit we are talking about regular food with regular people as a regular habit.
For families, this may be the norm. Perhaps it is not hard for you to share one meal a day with others because you spend much time wishing you could actually get a meal alone where no one throws food and breaks out into song in the middle of a meal. In this case, the habit might mean taking one of those meals each day and considering the weight of what it means to eat together as a family. Perhaps it means actually sitting down together instead of just serving the food while others eat. (For example, while I prepare breakfast for my family regularly, I very rarely sit down to eat it with them – I set out food and hurry onto other things.)
In family or group house settings, this habit means to remind ourselves that the table is the starting point for household formation. There are all kinds of things that take place at the table that serve to educate both the young and the guest alike. Think of all the lessons in how we live that lie between the place settings: how to listen, how to speak, how to take turns and serve each other, how to share, how to exercise restraint and how to be generous. Even more, we learn storytelling and the art of sharing about a day – how it happened, what you felt about it, what it all means. Attention to these things makes the table the starting point for transforming the household into a school of love.
For singles or couples with no children, this could vary widely in practice but it is definitively the same in principle. What would it mean if your house regularly had dinner together? You would actually have to sync your lives a bit, communicate and wait on each other. Leave a work project at the office for each other.
If it is not with someone in your household, it could mean slowing your life down enough to create that space for a meal with other people. This could be reaching out intentionally to coworkers, old friends. You could reach out to a poor or lonely neighbor. Trying to host someone every night would be much more stressful than formative, so perhaps it is taking your dinner to a public park. Maybe it’s going to a restaurant and eating at the bar to chat with the bartender. Maybe it is scheduling a phone call or a Skype date with another friend over a meal at dinner time.
The simplest way might be taking your lunch to the break room where you can at least be available to eat with others. In many workplaces this may be a kind of radical act. I confess that almost every day I find myself either working through lunch or eating at my desk alone. This habit is a way to resist that kind of frenzied work day and actually go find a coworker and be present with them for half an hour while you eat food together.
If you are lonely, I understand this may be a painful reminder of how much you wish you had someone to eat with. Perhaps you read this deeply longing to have one meal a day with others, wishing they would accept your invitation. I have little to say on that, except to acknowledge that pain is a deep one. Christ became lonely so that he might break bread with us, so for you I pray that you find Him at your table, and that you see that it is not empty, but place of His presence.
And there is the heart of the habit – presence. To turn our presence to those who need it, and take the occasion of eating as a way to give food both to the body and to the hungry soul.
If we are committed to daily eating with others, we will soon encounter the stunning fact in order to do so we actually may need to get up and look around for our neighbor. We may see how many of them either don’t have food, or are living quietly in the lonely busyness so characteristic of our time. What a beautiful thing then, to break into that space offering food and a warm conversation.
As we work on this habit together, let us do it all in looking forward to the supper of the lamb, with a table long enough to hold us all and food enough to fill our bodies and our souls.
May we be people that offer food to the hungry soul.