1st February 2021 | Sandra McCracken | 3 comments

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.

We are happy for our blogs to be used by third parties on condition that the author is cited and A Rocha International, www.arocha.org, is credited as the original source. We would be grateful if you could let us know if you have used our material, by emailing [email protected].

Categories: Stories
About Sandra McCracken

Sandra McCracken has served as Nashville A Rocha Arts Director since 2013. She has lead numerous songwriting retreats and workshops, drawing together fellow artists and songwriters to reflect upon what it means to know, love, and care for God’s creation – for the people and places – around us. Sandra is a prolific singer-songwriter and modern-day hymn writer; her music has been featured by All Sons And Daughters, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, Audrey Assad, Indelible Grace, BiFrost Arts, Caedmon’s Call and others. She has also been a guest contributor for The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, She Reads Truth, Art House America Blog, Relevant Magazine and other publications. At home in Nashville, with her two young children chiming in, Sandra contributes to Rain For Roots, producing timeless, gospel folk-songs for God’s children of all ages.

View all posts by Sandra McCracken (1)

3 responses to “Don’t pack away the dinnerware during COVID-19”

  1. Marcial Felgueiras says:

    Dear Sandra,

    THANKS! Thanks a million for reminding us of the “power” of table gathering but above all for sharing your thoughts about Miranda and the impact she has had in all of us. You wouldn’t know but actually on the days right after her death two of your songs kept playing in loop in my head (All ye refugees – because of the Welcome home verse – and We will feast, if you are curious) and in the midst of all the sadness your songs spoke of hope and celebration of life. Thanks for your text and for your songs. God bless you!

  2. Simon says:

    This beautiful meditation settles it: Our next investment will be a large(r) dining table!
    But maybe the hopefully-soon homecoming feast will come first.

  3. Sandra McCracken says:

    Marcial, I’m grateful for your kind words and for the gift of being part of the A Rocha community. Thank you for sharing!

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