Like most families, ours is a busy one. We dash to school. We dash from school to a short snack at home and we dash again to practice or meetings or visits or homework. It seems like everything we do is being timed for some kind of busyness Olympics; I’m still at the back of the pack.
Dinners, though, had lately become an untenable weirdness that lasted for hours and spread through the entire house. Since various people need to be in sundry places at disparate times and in the four corners of Tulsa, I had become lazy. I had allowed picky eaters to abscond with savory snacks and fail to eat something halfway healthful. I had allowed the noses to stay stuck in books or video games or texting while the mouths mindlessly gobbled whatever was thrown into the trough before them.
I read this from Kathleen Norris, whose prose is clean like well-loved farmhouse and likewise full of wisdom an nuance.
When we serve ourselves, he said, we do not exemplify monastic values. He wondered if eating family-style, sharing from a common bowl, waiting to be served and then to serve one’s neighbor, was a practice monastic people could afford to lose.
Norris writes in The Cloister Walk about her experience as a lay person in monastic living, and her times visiting Benedictine monasteries in particular. She writes much of the robust daily schedule which calls for early rising and late prayer and time for play and study and prayer.
When I read the above passage, I was sad. Sad because family-style at our home had come to be a sort of Lord of the Flies kind of endeavor; every man for himself, winner takes all. We had lost not only the community and intimacy of eating a meal together bunched around a table, but we had lost, too, the art of service.
But how easy to implement change. I called the people to the table and I explained how things were going to work. They blinked at me, befuddled. We passed the dishes, each on serving the sibling to the left. And the most marvelous thing happened.
“What good thing happened in your day today?” One sister asked the other.
And they were off. We smiled. We laughed. We told stories. We sat at the table until everyone had finished eating. And then, we cleared the table and cleaned the kitchen together. This was not as pleasant, but it was still better than the standard alternative I had permitted.
We’re not monastic. We’re just a family desperate to stay connected, really and truly connected, in a world where connections are only as strong as our broadband. We won’t be able to do this every night. But it’s a start.
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