Preparing For Dinner

My Lenten season has not turned out the way I imagined it would. I’ve still got time, I guess, but mostly I’m just once again surprised at the way things just don’t work out, and yet they do.

My idea of jumpstarting a spiritual awakening by making more of an effort to stay engaged with the unknown was fine, I recommend it, but it was sort of hit and miss.

Then again, sometimes you head off in one direction, and a better direction shows up along the way. Like I need to explain this stuff. Humanity 101. We try. We fail. We are imperfect. We try again.

And then it showed up, whatever I was hoping for, expecting, imagining. None of my problems got fixed along the way. I wasn’t expecting a miracle, just maybe a tiny bit of transformation, and as is usually the case in these sorts of things, transformation is all about perspective.

I wrote a stewardship letter this year, sent out to the members of our church with copies of budgets and pledge cards for the upcoming fiscal year. This is a small church and the budget is relatively tiny. There are people in the congregation who earn more in a year than our annual budget, I’m pretty sure.

In it, I mentioned my experience, years ago, different church, with sending out to the local newspapers our Holy Week schedule, and how the pastor asked me to omit Maundy Thursday (the first of what is called The Three Days; it marks the night with the disciples when Jesus was betrayed but had dinner first). Maundy Thursday in this church involved an actual meal, followed by a brief service, and the pastor was worried there wouldn’t be enough food, so I told that story in this letter. How it made perfect sense, and how it still felt spiritually dissonant. The symbolism involved in welcoming all to the table gets a little watered down when you keep it secret. We should believe, even with perfectly sound reasoning suggesting otherwise, that there will be enough food, always.

Last night was our fifth and final Lenten meal at the church. My idea. My hope. My raising something up the flagpole and seeing who salutes. You get the picture. I had a notion, and I was curious.

And roughly half the church, or at least the members who attend regularly, showed up for these dinners. It felt like a successful experiment in fellowship and our drive to engage with each other. There was no program. We started a few with someone saying grace, and a few we just dug in and figured God would get it. Otherwise, there was nothing about church or God or Christianity or Lent or Easter or anything else along those lines on the table. Just food.

Afterwards, I’ve had choir practice, and still the entire area, dining and kitchen, gets spick and span somehow. Different people on different nights, but it gets done. I mostly just turn out the lights and make sure the doors are locked.

The way the food shows up has been left mostly out of the equation. People would come up to me and ask, and I’d suggest something, a casserole or bread or veggies or whatever. I’d usually make something myself.

Last night, though, with only a couple of offers to bring salads, I had nothing. No one had mentioned anything  on the Sunday before otherwise, and no inquiring emails were sent. I made a pot of soup, and a super-simple, cheap casserole that I threw together in five minutes and then tossed in the microwave, remarkably enough. And then I just waited.

Maybe the stars aligned in a certain way, and people had other things to do. I knew we’d have six or seven at least, maybe a few more. Our head pastor walked in, looked around, and asked me if we’d have enough food. I just shrugged. He went out to pick up rolls, and I stirred my soup and set the table. And waited a bit.

Here’s why this was an experiment: I’m not the social director at this church, and I’m certainly not going to cook for a bunch of people once a week. It was time to trust my instincts. Also time to trust some more profound ideas, but we were talking about dinner.

And at some point about halfway through our meal, with again half the church in attendance, everyone showing up with some dish to offer, no big deal, my pastor turned to me with a big grin and said, Who knew? There was enough food.

I had to smile and nod. Yeah. I almost said something like, oh we of little faith, but that wasn’t really applicable. Our faith was fine. We just wanted things to work out.

They worked out, and for just a second there was a sense that I was going to burst into tears. Happy tears, but kind of embarrassing, and it passed.

It’s just that at that moment, I got Lent. It’s not about sacrificing pleasure, or practicing disciplines, or seeking out clarity, although all of things can happen and do.

For me, though, it turns out to be setting the table, and preparing for what might come, and being ready when it does.

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