Life is better when people sit around a table to share a meal. There is something at work that closes gaps and encourages goodwill. Given the chance, similarities take center stage, forcing differences to take a back seat.
It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, what race or ethnicity, rich or poor, no matter the litany of differences, sitting together fosters good things. It’s why family dinners are so important.
Growing up in my family, someone always had a place for the larger group to gather. Getting together, even only now and then, was a priority.
Uncle Pete Terrell carried the tradition of the family’s summer reunion at his farm. He lived on the highway perpendicular to the highway my grandparents lived on, the two roads connected by a gravel lane that wound past the old family homestead of my mother’s grandparents. Before families moved apart and work took folks to the city, my family of days gone by gathered Sundays after church to catch up on news, recount blessings, divide difficulties, and share a meal. Summer reunions took the place of Sunday times of fellowship and became the not-to-be-missed yearly gathering.
My mom, just like her aunts and cousins, spent hours in the kitchen preparing specialties. My grandfather and the great uncles started early while it was dark firing up the pits to roast the meats and setting up sawhorse tables. The great big family came in all sorts of trucks and cars, parking in the field and walking with casserole dishes toward the tables, guided by the aromas. Smiles split faces, and hugs pulled loved ones close. Even the youngest, shy at first, warmed up quickly.
Sitting around that table drew us close. We celebrated family in all our diversity and peculiarities. What brought us together proved stronger than what made us different.
Recently, I sat at another table with another family in the mountains of Jackson County. Graduates of Western Carolina University gathered, celebrating successes and sharing victories. The group is family through their connections with HOMEBASE, a ministry of Baptist Children’s Homes that provides safe haven for former children in care, foster children who have aged out of that program, and independent students with no “home base” of their own.
Jim Dean, director of the ministry, smiles a welcome, congratulates the graduates, and the conversations begin, slowly at first and then gaining that comfortable communion of a reunion.
Jorge, Scott, Sophie and Caleb all have different stories and have all connected with HOMEBASE for different reasons. Sophie has a tale of lost parents and was a student leader when the doors opened in 2017. Caleb and Dean connect regularly. Caleb’s story includes a broken childhood home and a tale of raising his younger siblings. Jorge and Scott are leaders of a Baptist organization that meets at HOMEBASE and are resident volunteers. The smiles and laughter are familiar; they are family around a table to share so much more than good food.
There is something holy about connecting and sharing a meal. The scriptures record twenty-something accounts of these gatherings. Even on the eve of his passion and death, our Lord gathered his family for a meal. Countless artists document the Last Supper as an instance of high importance in the life of Christ. Sharing food satisfies so much more than physical hunger; it goes to the heart of what makes us human, that need to unite and reunite again.
I leave the mountains refreshed, the celebration of the “HOMEBASE” family still reverberating in my head. It will be miles before my smile fades. At a rest area along Interstate 40 on the home side of Asheville, I call Kathy. “How about gathering all who can come for Sunday dinner? I’ll fire up the grill.”
Homeword is written by Jim Edminson, Charity & Children Editor