02 December 2010
Dinner Church: A Wordless Way of Saying Grace
Last night we had our first Dinner Church at Redeemer. We couldn't have done it without the inspiration and help of St. Lydia's Dinner Church in Manhattan. They graciously shared one of their liturgies with us, which we adapted for our context.
In this liturgy, the meal and the Eucharist are interwoven beautifully. The meal begins with the breaking of the bread and ends with the blessing of the wine. And so, the entire dinner meal is part of the Eucharist. Indeed, it is the Eucharist. When we passed the bread to one another, we said, "This is my body." And so, we ourselves - we too - were the Eucharist. My favorite moment: when my seven year-old daughter, with a huge smile on her face, handed me a small piece of bread and said, "This is my body."
It was a wonderful experience, which, for me, is best captured by this quote from Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I shared last night:
"We plated the pasta, and I called everyone to the table for dinner. Votives were lit, wine was poured, the perfume of thyme and morels filled the room, and I raised my glass for a toast. I'd actually meant to write out something earlier in the day, because I'd wanted to organize my thoughts on the meaning of the meal and everyone's contribution to it, but the day had gotten away from me. So I kept it simple. I went around the table and spoke of each person's contribution to my foraging education and to this meal that, though I had cooked most of its myself, was in the deepest sense our collaboration.
"I had actually wanted to say something more, to express a wider gratitude for the meal we were about to eat, but I was afraid that to offer words of thanks for the pig and the mushrooms and the forests and the garden would come off sounding corny and, worse, might ruin some appetites. The words I was reaching for, of course, were the words of grace. But as the conversation at the table unfurled like a sail amid the happy clatter of silver, tacking from stories of hunting to mother lodes of mushrooms to abalone adventures, I realized that in this particular case words of grace were unnecessary. Why? Because that's what the meal itself had become, for me certainly, but I suspect for some of the others too: a wordless way of saying grace.
"The stories [we told], like the food that fed them, cast lines of relation to all these places and the creatures living (and dying) in them, drawing them all together on this table, on these plates, in what to me began to feel a little like a ceremony. And there's a sense in which the meal had become just that, a thanksgiving or a secular seder, for every item on our plates pointed somewhere else, almost sacramentally, telling a little story about nature or community or even the sacred, for mystery was very often the theme. Such storied food can feed us both body and soul, the threads of narrative knitting us together as a group, and kitting the group into the larger fabric of the given world.
I don't want to make too much of it; it was just a meal after all."
But it wasn't just a meal. It's never just a meal. Not by a long shot. And I can't wait for next week's Dinner Church.