Dear Nephews: Keep Setting The Table

Russian Orthodox eucharist

My dear Cubbie, Dodger, & Rex,

On a late spring day like today you have probably imagined a thousand new wonders already (before breakfast even), invented new trampoline moves, created many-a-raucous noise, and designed more intricate Star Wars origami. It’s not a day for sitting too still for too long. There are worlds to explore and lives to experience.

“Let him regard all the utensils of the monastery and its whole property as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar.” — Rule of St.Benedict

“The Lord walks among the pots and pans.” -St. Teresa of Avila

Benedictine spirituality, among many others, looks to move past our divisions between the sacred and the secular, or the sacred and the profane. So often we place our holy rituals and bible readings in one divine category, and the rest of our lives in another mundane category. Ancient mystics such as Benedict and Teresa saw no division between the two.

In fact, the division we created was, in part, the reason for people being unable to truly experience God. How can we? If only a tiny portion of our daily lives is considered ‘holy’, does God really care about your new imaginings or trampoline moves? Is God present?

Certainly.

What a wondrous and absurd thought to think that God could possibly see trampoline moves as sacred. Tumbling and moving and inventing and bouncing and laughing — how can these be sacred? And yet they are. Your ability to move physically and enjoy emotionally and connect relationally are all profound and sacred mysteries that connect us to God in each playful moment. Curious, is it not?

Yet even as I come to understand the sacred nature of all life and all moments, I would make a change to the ancient rule of Benedict. One small change that, like the rudder of a ship, can change the course of our faith’s direction.

Scratch out the word altar.

Insert the word table.

You might not see the big issue now, my boys, but trust me that the ramifications are enormous. You see, ancient peoples — from the time before Christ even until now — made sacrifices on altars. These were holy places of penitence and gratitude and petition where life was given in hope of forgiveness, communion, and blessing. Sacrifices could have been made of animals, vegetables, fruits, or even people — any precious thing a person was truly attached to or relied upon for daily life.

It would be easy to give the lint in your pockets as a sacrifice. You wouldn’t miss it all. I daresay that you don’t even know it’s there right now! But if you were asked to give up your brother or your grandma, you would be thinking long and hard about why you had to give it up and what good it would do for you and your family.

And you would be thinking about how badly you would feel by sacrificing your family, even as you understood in this line of belief that it was for your betterment. Quite the quandary, isn’t it?

So why do churches still call our communion tables altars? Atonement theory aside, Jesus was seen as the Last Sacrifice. No more is needed on a divine level. On a daily level, we are called to sacrifice time, energy, skills and resources on behalf of others, in worship of God, or in becoming more fully ourselves. Trust me, it is no small task.

But we no longer are required to slaughter crop and beast and person to somehow appease the divine. And by insisting on using the word altar, we continue in this bound belief that our communion elements are somehow a sacrifice. Not only that, but we continue to create that long divide between the sacred and the profane.

No.

My boys, we now gather around a Table. It is a Table meant for everyone to come and be re-membered: re-membered by God, re-membered by one another, re-membered within ourselves. It is a Table so vast and so big that the entire world is able to fit around it. And yet, sadly, we still find ways to keep people from it. We elbow one another, fighting for space and for voice, and we even shove others away whom we believe are unworthy of sharing in what is the most Simple Meal in the history of humanity.

In its beauty, we encounter God in ways we haven’t been able to before; we see ourselves in ways previously hidden from us; and we see other people through their eyes. These are gifts beyond what any toy or bookstore can offer. And these gifts transcend moments at the Table.

We carry them on.

When we bounce on the trampoline or clean our rooms or set the table for supper, we are praising God, we are spending sacred time with God, and we are welcoming the stranger. All you do in this life is sacred. The Table is our central focus to remind us of this powerful truth. Yet if we continually return to the altar, we will remain in a cycle of needing to make one small space sacred while declaring the rest of the world unholy.

This is God’s world!

We are co-creators and co-partners in its stewardship. We are created to treat all things and all people as sacred. And yet the irony is that this sacredness is as mundane as counting earth worms on a rainy day or making dandelion bouquets for your mother. These simple tasks that fill our hours reflect our Simple Meal.

“My body…for you.”

“My blood…for you.”

“In re-membrance of Me.”

Never stop setting The Table, my boys. Breakfast, lunch, and supper, choose to see God in the setting of cutlery and plates, cups and napkins. In these daily chores and choices, you are being re-membered into Christ, into God. It is no small task! Many days feel boring, especially when doing the dishes or sweeping the floor take up trampoline time. Remind yourselves that God is creating those chore-filled moments to be as sacred as your play.

So when, once again, you gather around The Table, you can not only encounter the holy but you can see all that was once judged as profane is, and has always been, expressions of God and God’s love.

Enjoy today, my boys. The sun, the bugs, the earth, the play, the chores, and the resting.

All my love,

Auntie Erin

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