I’ve been touched this week by the idea of bigger tables. The idea that we are building, both metaphorically and literally, bigger tables at which we can gather to eat and laugh, to write and do craft projects, to connect and listen and share and brainstorm creative solutions for everything that ails us…
When I was very young, one of my favorite television programs was “Little House on the Prairie,” based on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Monday nights were the only school night I was allowed to stay up past 8:30 because the hour-long program didn’t end until 9:00, and my parents deemed it a wholesome show worth stretching bedtime limits. The titular little house had one main room in which the family did everything but sleep. In a sprawling modern floor-plan its purpose might be described as a “great room,” but this cooking/dining/living space couldn’t have been more modest; it was tiny. It did, however, have a great table. The table dominated. And a whole lot of family love and life lessons happened around it.
I grew up in a house in which our dining table got a lot of use. Neither was ours a very large room, but the table was good-sized, and could get bigger with the heavy extra leaves that we’d pull out of the hall closet at least several times a month to make room for dinner guests, or post-choir rehearsal blueberry cobbler gatherings, or book studies, or when Dad needed extra counter space for projects ranging from tomato-canning to advent wreath-making.
When I was in junior high and high school (and briefly dreamed of being an architect) I used to design houses on graph paper. I was kind of obsessive about it. I drew a lot of houses, let me tell you. Sometimes they were palatial sky’s-the-limit dream mansions, but more often the fun was trying to puzzle-out how to fit everything I wanted into the smallest possible square-footage. A key element in every house I envisioned was at least one room with an enormous table. Usually I conceived of it being a multi-purpose piece — for eating, artwork, and gift-wrapping, most importantly.
I just like tables. I like them in offices and work-spaces and libraries, as well as in homes. They seem to me like the heart of any room because they invite togetherness.
I’m sure you’ve heard the anonymous apothegm, “If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table not a taller fence.”
This saying has been flying around quite a bit over the last few years, especially in the context of refugees desperately seeking asylum on the southern border while our embarrassment-in-chief continues to fan xenophobic division with promises of a ludicrous (and fraudulently funded) wall. But I digress; that’s not what I want to write about..
I was reminded of the proverb last week when Patty shared about a recent get-together with a small group of friends. They had planned to remain outside to be epidemiologically safe, but the air was thick and uncomfortable with wildfire smoke, so they decided to move indoors. Fortunately, the house at which they had gathered had a huge kitchen island. Patty said they could all sit around it and still maintain at least a 6-foot distance from each other. I was charmed by the image. For me, it spoke not just to having room to spare and share, which is in itself lovely, but also to the imperative to create “bigger tables” that can span physical distances these days.
It made me think of our online services and workshops, our Zoom prayer groups and FaceTime family dinners. I love the reminder that these don’t have to be viewed as pale substitutes for the real thing. We can acknowledge them as actual and vital experiences of connection and community. We’re just gathering around bigger tables. And the technology that enables us to do so is pretty freakin’ miraculous. These tables are big enough to accommodate participants on the other side of the planet, if they want to join us.
The metaphor is a rich one, and there are a lot of different directions in which we might take it.
There are tables in our own hearts, where we can pull up extra chairs for all our mixed feelings and the different aspects of our being. There are tables of shared identity — like, what does it mean to be an American, or a patriot — who gets a seat there? There are philosophical and theological tables — I’ve been thinking a lot lately about spirituality and how part of my personal mission is to build a bigger table for that whole concept, so that people with any beliefs (or no fixed beliefs) feel welcome and included.
This has been a hell of a year. I’ve heard many people describe it as a “lost” or “wasted” year. And of course I get that in some ways. But I also think these months have been a time of great growth and innovation. We have developed different content and new capacities that will serve us going forward. My commitment is that when we are able to gather in person once again, we will do so with an expanded sense of our togetherness. An expanded sense of who we are and what we can be together.
Because for me, that’s what this is all about — a bigger table means a bigger togetherness, and a bigger togetherness means that there’s no stopping that to which we set our minds and hearts.
I can’t wait to be with you — yes actually WITH you — online this week. New content, including my talk, Patty’s music, and a reading from Romy, will be available Saturday at 6 pm and any time thereafter at your convenience. Visit BOSQUECSL.ORG or VIMEO.COM/BOSQUECSL.
Take care of yourselves and each other, friends. XO, Drew
© 2020 Drew Groves