In praise of tables

I’m sitting at a coffee table right now. It’s a rough-cut, slapped together affair that’s not all that flat and full of dings. But it’s over a century old and cost us nothing and it’s full of memories of people gathered around it.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend across a modern brushed steel table. Later, I shared dinner with my family and several guests — nine of us, all told — around our long alder table. And then I finished the night at a brewery with an old friend at a table made from one long slab of pine, 2.5 feet wide, cut from a local forest.

Each of the tables I’ve sat and stood at over the past 24 hours is as unique as the people gathered around them. But each of them did the same thing: They gathered us. We were each doing our own thing, running in all kinds of different directions, but then we came to the table and stopped. We ate. We talked. We connected.

Tables are our most enduring icons of community. Abraham serving the angels. Jesus at the Last Supper. King Arthur at his round table. These are enduring images. Each points to a poigniant connection. Abraham being visited by the Trinity. Jesus sharing one last meal with his dear disciples before going to the cross. King Arthur setting aside hierarchy so that each of his knights may have a full voice in every deliberation.

There was a time when the table was the chief piece of furniture in every home. Some households even had two, with a special dining table. But we’ve lost a lot over the last 60 years as the table has been supplanted by screens — first TV screens and now personal electronics screens — and it’s rare for households to share meals every day, much less once a week.

The answer to loneliness in our culture is not social media. It’s a tenacious holding onto the table; a determined effort to return it to the center of our lives.

May you find yourself the host and the hosted at many tables. May your meals be long. May you drink deeply of conversations deep and trivial, boring and blythe. May you come away with belly full and heart sated. Amen and amen.

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