It’s 3:00am and I’m not sleeping. Instead, while my body is attempting to deal with the overload of food I put in it last night at the Progressive Dinner, my mind won’t shift into sleep mode. One thought in particular won’t quiet down.
Last night, as we sat around the table in Ginny’s lanai just before we began to eat, Ron looked at me from the opposite end of where I sat and said, “Well Don, you’re at the head of the table so it’s up to you to say something significant.” I replied, “But I don’t know anything significant!”.
The truth was that I did know something significant. It was in plain sight. ‘Significant’ … an important sign… something that needs to be interpreted because it has valuable meaning.
I was thinking about a story I’d heard: A farmer brought his family to town to eat at a restaurant. Before they began eating they bowed their heads and the farmer said a short prayer of thanksgiving. Some men at the next table were amused by this, and one of them said, “Hey Farmer! Do they all do that where you’re from?” The farmer thought for a moment and replied, “Well, no… the pigs don’t.”
Eating food together is an ancient religious ritual practiced by every known culture. It is an activity filled with symbolic meaning. The ancients believed that when they ate, they weren’t simply consuming calories, they were consuming the essence or spirit of an animal, or if it was a vegetable, the spirit of the earth. They consumed life so that they could live and share life in community. Like breathing, where ‘spirit’ (pneuma) or air was taken in to the body, and then given back, life was not something that could be stored or used only for individual gain. Existence required both receiving and giving. Eating food and concepts of sacrifice went hand in hand.
So, right in front of me at the table was a sign – a symbol of community. In graphic form it looked like this:
The symbol means that just as everyone receives, each of us has something to offer, something that will meet a need of another and contribute to the Whole. None of us is worthless. What we’ve received we haven’t earned; it’s ALL a gift – form a source outside of ourself. A gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, loving labor.
Something else that we should be able to see as we interpret the symbol of a meal is that everything is sacred. Spirituality cannot be separated from the details of life or reserved only for “Holy Days” (holidays) or special religious gatherings. Wherever and whenever we gather, and for whatever purpose we gather, we are always sharing life or Spirit. Different religions may use different forms of language to express this idea, but under all the excess baggage of dogmas, creeds, sacraments, traditions, and clerical orders, you’ll find this common concept.
The difference between pigs and humans, is that a pig, even though it is just as interdependent in its environment as a human, and both a receiver and a giver of life, it doesn’t have the capacity to be aware of it – to be ‘mindful’ as a Buddhist might say (http://www.plumvillage.org/practice.html?start=6). Whether we are ‘mindful’ or not, is our choice.
I’m especially mindful of my most excellent neighbors this morning, who are willing to share life with me, especially in the forms of good food, laughter, and love.
Now, leave me alone and let me sleep.