Mealtimes are reassuring. We don’t want fire alarms to go off when we settle to enjoy food and conversation. We feel sure that God nurtures us, by providential patterns of life, including gentle involvement in thoughtfully prepared food. We can express our concern for the health and inner peace of those at the table, making the meal a time of creative bonding.
But dining rooms are also places where moments of confusion or excitement might leave their mark, and be remembered as a little vulnerable. Here in the Giles Lane Study Centre, Canterbury, the refectory has brought together a number of religious families: Franciscans and Redemptorists, Sisters of Mercy, Little Brothers and Sisters of Charles de Foucauld, Benedictines, Carmelites and others, generally for special feast day celebrations at Christmas or on the feast of St. Francis. Liturgical joyfulness beforehand spills over into the meal, raising spirits and stirring up kindly laughter.
The prayerful aspect has sometimes become more adventurous, around Eastertime, for instance. For some years, we had held a Christian ‘Passover Seder Meal’ in Holy Week, an echo of the Jewish celebration. One time, our community Guardian, who had diabetes, was reciting a prayer about the Exodus and the tumult of the Crossing of the Red Sea. He suddenly seemed to freeze, and repeated the same phrase three or four times consecutively. He had lapsed into a diabetic ‘hypo’, in danger of entering a coma. It was a very sobering development. But it fittingly highlighted our mortality.