Don’t pack away the dinnerware during COVID-19
Reproduced with permission from Christianity Today
The late Miranda Harris was best known for founding A Rocha with her husband Peter 38 years ago. But Miranda was also known for the beautiful letters she sent from places all around the world.
I was fortunate enough to have received many of them. They arrived in my Tennessee mailbox postmarked from France, India, and South Africa. Her letters came alive with words from the Psalms, with family updates and encouragements, written in lovely script all the way to the edges of the page. She wrote the way she lived, as an overflow.
Miranda’s faithful habit of letter writing was part of her gift for bringing others into her life. So was the Harris’s family table. In the early days of the couple’s ministry, Miranda famously spent their first earnings on a large dining room table.
The A Rocha house, on the coast of Portugal, was a study centre that, in those first years, also served as their family home. They welcomed travellers and scientists, binocular-toting bird observers, note takers, and researchers (and the occasional special guest of a recovering owl or songbird). Miranda’s extravagant purchase of a dining table made hospitality a priority. Community orbited around this table through conversation, feasting, and regular time spent face to face over meals.
I’ve thought of this image often this year, as our family tables have been reduced in size during pandemic life. Whether you live alone, with a spouse, with friends, or in other family configurations, the compression of our social rhythms has likely left you feeling isolated.
It would be easier to choose to eat in front of a screen, apart from others, or hidden in headphones. While we all need time apart, especially in close quarters, maintaining the ceremonial rhythms of a regular family meal can bond us together, even when we feel the inevitable strain of intimacy. (For our loved ones who are close in heart but not in proximity, regular phone calls or cheerful notes can similarly bring tangible comfort and remind them they are valued.)
Holy habits are often quiet habits. Meeting together for a meal at the same time with the same people is a reminder that we belong. This kind of nourishment is more substantial than just the vegetables on a plate. Who we are begins here. In the long view, relationships are sustained by habits of hospitality, no matter the scale.
We bought our small, round dining room table from a neighbour on Craigslist. It’s just what we need for now, but one day we hope to have a table where we can host a feast with friends and neighbours.
I still have the last letter Miranda sent me in my nightstand, and I miss being able to sit across the table from her. In celebrating Miranda’s life, I smile when I think about her splurging on her big table. The legacy of her hospitality shines all the more brightly during this extended season of social distancing. While for a time we may be apart from loved ones and our place settings may be few, the habit of meeting together with the few people we do have near us will shape our hearts toward the time when we can again gather everyone around one big table.
How rich, then, that God himself prepares a table for us (Psalm 23)! At God’s own table, he is the nourishment, the celebration, and the host. Throughout history, the church has often been scattered, and the Lord’s Supper is a demonstration of God’s hospitality to us as we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection until he comes again.
In this way, Miranda’s lavish table purchase had an even deeper meaning. One day, we will again gather at a table together for a homecoming feast. In that light, setting out plates and forks can become a liturgy of fellowship. Just by showing up, we receive God’s provision as we pass the green beans and potatoes. When we gather, God’s Spirit infuses hope into the rhythms of our lives.
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