How does a table become a temple? What's going on when we share a meal? This week I'm reposting a series on feasting as a preparation and celebration of Thanksgiving.
Awhile ago one of my roommates told me about a preacher he heard on the radio that day. The preacher had said, "Our bodies and souls are so connected, they catch each other's diseases." I think he was saying that if we do something destructive with our bodies, it will affect us in ways that go deeper than our skin. And if the deep parts of us are sick, that sickness may find its way to the surface of our lives. I think that's true. But it's sad that he only talked about the negative side of that connection. If our bodies and souls are really so connected, then couldn't that connection work for good, too?
If our bodies and souls are so connected, then what happens to our souls when a singer, tapping into the joy of her heart, cries out a song, her voice traveling through the atmosphere to land on our ears, grabbing us, shaking us with the same joy?
What happens to our souls when our eyes take in some staggering beauty, like when the setting sun lights the sky on fire?
What happens when we are touched with love and care?
If our bodies and souls are so connected, then what happens when we stand in the kitchen together, smelling and tasting and talking for hours?
If the things we see or hear or touch or taste or smell have the power to lead our souls toward destruction, then maybe they also have the power to lead them toward life.
The very idea of Jesus — of God living a human life, with fasting and feasting written into every page of His story — begs us to take our meals more seriously. In John's account of Jesus's life, the first revelation of His glory is when He turns water into wine. Exquisite wine. Somewhere between 600 and 900 bottles of exquisite wine. Jesus understood the power of meals so clearly that He was able to use them to condemn oppressive social and religious structures by simply eating with the right (or the wrong) people. When we want to start a movement, we aim for a viral video or a growing Twitter following. Jesus did it by sharing His table. He gave His followers a meal that would become the center of their worship, and His followers would come to call that meal Thanksgiving, which is what Eucharist means. And then, when he came out of the grave, raised from the dead, giving us a glimpse of unending, enduring, eternal life, He cooked a meal for his friends on the beach where they feasted together.
This is good news for anyone who has ever shared a meal with the people they love and wondered why it felt so sacred. This tells me I'm not crazy for thinking my table is sometimes something like a temple.
I say that because, if you open yourself up to the depth of your experience, if you say out loud what you really feel about that song or that sunset or that meal, someone pious will inevitably chastise you. They will point out how things like food and drink and music and sex can become idols. And the thing is, they're right. Everything we take in with our senses can become an idol, and it's wise to be wary of the liabilities that come with living in a body. But what if condemning idols isn't the most effective way of dealing with them?
In the book of Acts, Paul finds himself in Athens, surrounded by idolatry. We might expect him to draw a sharp distinction between the God revealed in Jesus and the idols they worship. But he takes a different approach. He calls out one of their idols, dedicated to an unknown God, and begins to describe the object of their worship as the God revealed in Jesus. It's like Paul sees that right in the midst of their idolatry, there's an earnest seeking, reaching for something transcendent, for a connection to something or Someone bigger than themselves. He tells them that God made us and the world we experience around us so that we might reach out to God and find Him.
I don't want to indiscriminately indulge in this world. But I don't want to fearfully condemn it, either. I want to rediscover it as a place to experience God. And the more time I spend watching Jesus, the more I suspect that's exactly what He had in mind.
Luke Timothy Johnson wrote a book about one of the confessions that Christians have used through the centuries to describe the basic architecture of their beliefs. In it he talks about the significance of saying something as seemingly simple as "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth":
"The believer affirms that there is a mystery at the heart of the world, a mystery that does not yield to direct examination, that refuses to be measured or manipulated, yet suggests its presence in every single thing that we can feel and taste and see and hear and smell in the world. The believer dwells in a world that is magical as well as mythic. The world is full even though it looks empty. The conviction that the world is not all there is does not diminish the worth of the world. Just the opposite: it teaches us to see the world as the most marvelous gift, a gift that, once given, can be studied, contemplated, and celebrated because it is freely given and not simply there."
Luke Timothy Johnson
The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters
I think he's right. I think heaven and earth intersect at common, everyday places, like our kitchen tables. I think the bread and wine (or Welch's) we have at church isn't the only holy meal we share. I think every meal is a chance to open our hearts up to God and to each other. Like the radio preacher, I think our bodies and souls are connected. The difference is I think that may be very good news.