Gifts of Grace in Bread, Wine, and Words

We’re back!

SOMEone turned SIX on our trip!

It was a wonderful trip, 9 days of visiting friends and family, most of whom we haven’t seen for a long time, because although my husband and I both went to college in the Northeast, we are back in this general area after 4 years in Europe, 2 in California, and nearly 2 in Chicago.

wagon ride on the streets of Harrisburg

A few weeks ago I had a post on the Christianity Today women’s blog on why it’s good to have people over to your house for dinner, even if it can feel vulnerable and awkward. I didn’t say much in that piece about how accepting hospitality also involves some vulnerability. It means accepting the kindness of others, which in our culture can sometimes feel like weakness. I suspect that’s one of the reasons some of us find it easiest to meet at “third places,” like restaurants and cafes. It’s easier to just go out to eat and order what you want and pay for yourself so that your friends don’t have to serve you and clean up after you.


Accepting hospitality is, I think, a little like accepting grace. You can’t earn it. You can’t make yourself worthy to receive it. Which is why it’s uncomfortable to accept. Accepting grace means admitting you need it. Accepting hospitality means accepting a gift of someone’s time, effort, and resources. Sure, you might bring a thank-you gift or card, but only a cynic would regard that as payment.

But staying with friends, eating with friends in homes–there is something almost miraculous going on there that I can’t quite put my finger on. I guess I can see why Jesus did so much of it. Even where I experienced nervousness at being so close to people I hadn’t seen for years (or, in some cases, hadn’t yet met), joy overwhelmed the nervousness. There is something precious about meeting people in their homes, seeing them with their children and in the place where they are (I think!) most comfortable. You can see that they are not so different from you–whether it’s in the quirkiness of their decor, the occasional crankiness of their children, or the unpredictability of pets, meal plans, and laundry piles.

another lovely PA farm…all the more lovely because of the people we love who live there!

(More than once, our children were cranky, rude, or whiny, prompting our various hosts to say in all sincerity, “your kids do that, too?” Tim & I joke that it’s our ‘ministry’ to help other parents feel better about their kids’ behavior…)

We are home now, but the joy of communing with friends on this trip has made me crave more hospitality in my life–more times of connecting over food and drinks and conversation, more times accepting and offering gifts of grace in bread, wine, and words.

we all should have friends who have grandparents who have ponies!

Thank you for your sweet hospitality, dear friends! We love you so much.

Coffee Cake Communion

(or, the dilemmas of Sunday Coffee Hour)

Recently I talked with a woman who’s in recovery from bulimia. “We’d never bring a bunch of recovering alcoholics into a room full of booze,” she said, “but you can’t really avoid food, and especially not at church.” Indeed, eating and drinking together is an important part of the community life in most churches, whether it’s limited to the celebration of communion (or Lord’s Supper, Mass, or Eucharist) or extended in “coffee hour” and potlucks. Eating together–as in MOST DAILY MEALS together–was an important part of the life of the early church. And it’s still important, though it’s different and in some ways, more complicated.

Some people really struggle with overeating, and I’ve heard from some folks, firsthand, that the platters of doughnuts and coffee cake and other goodies set out after church entice them in ways they don’t fully understand and want desperately to resist. (Before you’re tempted to cry out “they need willpower,” consider that the food industry does all it can to press the right ‘buttons’ to get us attracted and addicted to their offerings; if you don’t believe me, read this book.) Other people struggle with various forms of under-eating, and dread having to attend potlucks.

Eating in front of other people can be embarrassing, complicated, and messy in ways both literal and figurative. Maybe that’s partly because, despite all the rituals surrounding cooking, serving, and eating, eating is still so primal–such a naked acknowledgement of need. But I still think we’re meant to eat together. Eating together is good for what ails us–whether we’re inclined to binge, restrict, or whatever. A number of studies suggest that eating family meals protects children and teenagers emotionally, physically, psychologically, and socially. The most effective treatment for anorexia involves little more than love and meals eaten together. And people who eat with others are likely to be better nourished and at a healthier weight than those who eat alone.

So I think it’s important that churches eat together–especially when they eat together in ways that really focus on the togetherness. That’s not possible in all churches–say, in really big ones–but it’s more than possible in small churches and small groups. I do wonder if we’d not serve one another (and maybe even the Lord?) better if in these settings we’d be careful to meet the needs of those who are struggling with food issues in one way or another. I won’t say “no desserts!”–but I do wonder if communal meals (or snacks) that focus on simpler nourishment–like soup and bread, or fruit and cheese, or vegetable platters–would better serve the needs of those who (given the dismal statistics on these things) are likely to be struggling with food and weight.

At the same time, intentionally simpler and more mindful table fellowship can draw our attention to the meaning of the Lord’s Supper–which points us to Christ, our Bread of Life, and unites us to one another, Christ’s Body. “Don’t eat and drink without recognizing the body!” St. Paul wrote. Our food sustains us, as Christ sustains us–and as we sustain each otherthe body of Christ. Eating is complicated, unduly alluring for some and unimaginably anxiety-producing for others. When you eat with others today–whether at church, at home, in a restaurant, or outdoors (lucky you!)–consider how you might build the body.