I have many memories from my childhood of mealtimes. My mom and dad loved to have company for dinner. What I remember most are the conversations and laughter, the praying and singing.
For my parents, the mark of a successful dinner was when all stayed at the table until it was time to leave, which often was long into the evening.
In raising my six children, family mealtimes were very important. As my wife Ione and I share memories with our now young adult children we often hear, "No matter how busy we were or how bad we messed up, we always knew there would be a place for us at the table, and that almost every evening we would have a family meal."
When we gathered around a table, we were doing more than finding an efficient way to distribute food and accomplish our responsibility for feeding each member of our household. We were nourishing the bonds of love and care that made us a family.
Increasingly we Americans eat alone because of the pace of our lives. We eat separately in quickly prepared meals at home, dinners purchased at fast food restaurants, or those eaten on the run or at our desks. We seem to be losing the human connections that come with our daily bread. So often one of the loneliest times after the death of a spouse or after leaving a close-knit household is when one eats alone.
Many nutritionists have suggested that consistently eating meals prepared quickly and eaten alone have been detrimental to our bodies. Are such meals detrimental to our spirits? If so, this season may be a time for us to grow spiritually by giving praise to God for our daily bread and in giving thanks for how we are connected together through food.
We are connected to others by food in so many places — in fields and orchards, packing plants and factories, in warehouses, checkout lines and restaurants.
Let us begin in the fields and those who work there. Women and men who plant in the spring participate in a sophisticated economic enterprise with such in-depth knowledge about the complex process and technology that I am left in awe. Yet when asked what they do, they often speak of being stewards of the earth's bounty and servants of God's commitment that no one shall hunger.
Many who pick and pack the food we eat do backbreaking work in fields and orchards with few comforts, little job security, and with physical, economic and legal hazards. Our nourishment is tied to their risk. What moral and political risks are we willing to take to contribute to their well-being?
Food comes from fields, gardens and orchards to markets and our tables because many give their time to transporting and their imagination to marketing food. Engineers who design vehicles and roadways, drivers who spend long hours on the road, those who stock grocery shelves and work to keep produce and meat fresh during distribution, those who cook and serve in restaurants or do checkout in our stores—the networks of people we meet at the table grows larger.
Even teachers and writers, reporters and artists, advocates and activists help us understand more deeply how the food we have in abundance is given by God for all humankind to enjoy. They help us hear more clearly the cries of the hungry who yearn for a more rightful share of the daily bread God gives for all.
The food we eat brings us into connection with the whole human family. Whether we eat with others or alone, the table is always full. Mealtimes prepare us for and deepen our life together as the body of Christ at the table where we receive God's promise in the bread and cup. Our unity is in Jesus, who gathers us around word and water, wine and bread. That's why Jesus did not teach us to pray for "my own daily food" but "give us today our daily bread," bread we share at the Lord's table where we are joined to one another.
When we eat, may our prayer be for daily bread for all, and let us pray, "Come, Lord Jesus."
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers