By Maris Kramer
Refugee resettlement office. Wednesday. 3:00 p.m. It can only mean one thing: lunch time. Oh? You eat lunch at 12:30? That’s funny.
To be fair, the previous day I ate lunch at 11:00 a.m. The day before that I did not at eat at all. There really is no lunch “time” when work is a dash between setting up two apartments for arriving families, practicing interview questions with a client, and sifting through a stack of green files that appears to have grown while you were away from your desk. The green files.
But now it is Thursday, and the Road fellows have gotten off a flight, navigated the Boston T, and found ourselves on the doorstep of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. Fresh off noonday prayer, Brother Curtis warmly welcomes us to the refectory. Commoners may call such a place a dining room, but not in the monastery. (Wikipedia tells me, and I tell you, that the Latin origin of refectory means “a place one goes to be restored.” Ahhh, poetry.) Take my description of Wednesday’s meal, put it in a bag, shake it up, let it marinate overnight, bake it in the oven, and you’ll come close to what a monastic meal is like. Twenty contemplative faces sit in silence over a wholesome meal as one of the brothers reads from a book. About bird behavior.
It was like occupying two separate planes of existence, that Wednesday and Thursday, until I recognized the love that formed the foundation of each meal. Because what other than care for others motivates my coworkers to eat when they can, not when they want? What other than love for self/others/God allows us to give and receive the gift of listening when the opportunity to shovel food into our pie holes is in front of us, taunting?
The table is a holy space if you look hard enough at the times our parents had to work, so we ate quick meals in front of the TV. The times we sat next to someone and shared a plate of something too wonderful not to share. The times we labored over a feast for just one because we deserved more than Ramen that night. The times in a grade school cafeteria when our 300 voices silenced simultaneously to allow Mrs. Kelley to be heard. The times when a quiet meal was overtaken by moans of delight in the provisions before us.
I want more silent, smiling, book-filled meals. But I want a heart that recognizes the beauty in standing over a Tupperware full of cold rice and beans that gives you the energy for your next meeting with Jesus in the conference room.